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Why China is acting aggressively on swine flu

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BEIJING – Six years ago, the Chinese government drew worldwide opprobrium for keeping SARS a secret while its citizens died or spread the disease abroad.

Nobody could accuse Beijing of a coverup over swine flu. The national TV evening news Monday, when the first confirmed case was reported on the mainland, reported little else, and the authorities broadcast a very public manhunt. Within 24 hours, they had tracked down and quarantined more than 80 percent of the people who had come in contact with the victim between Tokyo and the provincial Chinese city where he was hospitalized.

If all this seems rather like overkill, it illustrates just how determined China is to be above reproach in its reaction to this public-health scare after failing so badly over SARS. It also reflects a particular worry in a country where bird flu is endemic in many regions.

Bird flu has killed more than half the people it has infected, but is hardly transmissible among humans. Swine flu is benign in about 99 percent of cases, according to a study published this week in Science magazine, but it is very contagious.

Officials are afraid of a “reassortment,” a mix of two flu strains, the head of the Beijing office of the World Health Organization, Hans Troedsson, said earlier this year.

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