For those with Olympic fever, the close of the Torino Winter Games causes thought to turn to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, now under two-and-a-half years away. But another kind of fever could cause severe problems for the Beijing Olympics, possibly even causing them to be moved.
Yesterday the Ministry of Health in China reported an additional laboratory confirmed case of human infection with the H5N1 avian influenza virus, a 32-year-old man from the southern province of Guangdong who developed symptoms of fever followed by pneumonia. His condition deteriorated rapidly and he died on March 2.
To date, China has reported 15 laboratory confirmed cases. Of these, nine have been fatal, while two patients remain in critical condition. The newly confirmed case is the first reported from Guangdong Province. The totals throughout Asia now stand at 175 cases and 95 deaths.
Back in November at the “1000 days to go” mark before the 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremonies — which the Beijing Olympic committee celebrated with a gala ceremony and presentation — I mentioned that an issue of possible concern not acknowledged by IOC or Beijing officials was the announcement by the Chinese government that same week of two outbreaks of avian flu in northeastern China. This was before there had been ANY confirmed human crossover cases.
As the result of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, the 2003 Women’s Soccer World Cup was relocated from China to the United States. The World Cup is again scheduled to be held in several locations throughout China in 2007.
If the bird flu virus does remain a threat to humans in China by then, the world sporting community will have to face the issue again. With the economics and prestige of the Olympics riding on the outcome, and the time and effort required to prepare for an event of such magnitude, the World Cup decision could also portend the actual location of the 2008 Olympics.