Saturday, October 1

Mystery disease outbreak in Shenzhen: the Casablanca Factor and bolts of lightning out of the blue

"Dear Pundita:
[Re yesterday's post] You wrote, "So, what type of disease presents with a symptom of a "dissolving" body along with symptoms that include vomiting, stomachache (and after death) a "large area hemorrhage inside the body?" (Para. 5) A blood-borne disease so highly infectious and lethal that within short order it killed two doctors who were exposed to the patient's blood? (Para. 7)"

Well, necrotizing fasciitis comes to mind:

It has the symptoms described, can be blood-borne or airborne, and can be very fast and lethal.

Could it be transmitted to the doctors? I have no idea about what procedures and sterile conditions are in Chinese hospitals but I can guess.
Dave Schuler
The Glittering Eye"

Dear Dave:
That's interesting, particularly with regard to some accounts of "very fast" death in Sichuan in relation to the mystery "pig disease" and which (if my memory serves) mentioned a "melted" or dissolved body in some cases.

However, with regard to the accounts relating to the outbreak in Shenzhen, Guangdong I think we can rule out necrotizing fasciitis (NF). I might have made this clearer if I had qualified the statement you quote by adding, "and which fits with the timeline of symptom onset and patient death mentioned in the translation of the March 25 Epoch Times article."

If untreated NF certainly kills fast; it kills too fast to make it a likely candidate for the illness described in the translation.

However, for the benefit of the readers I'll examine the NF angle as it might apply to the victims discussed in the translation. First let's review two timelines of the symptoms for necrotizing fasciitis (early and advanced stage) from the link you sent (emphasis throughout mine):

EARLY SYMPTOMS (usually within 24 hours):
> [...] The pain is usually disproportionate to the injury and may start as something akin to a muscle pull, but becomes more and more painful.

> Flu like symptoms begin to occur, such as diarrhea, nausea, fever, confusion, dizziness, weakness, and general malaise.

> Intense thirst occurs as the body becomes dehydrated.

> The biggest symptom is all of these symptoms combined. In general you will probably feel worse than you've ever felt and not understand why.

CRITICAL SYMPTOMS (usually within 4-5 days):
> Blood pressure will drop severely.

> The body begins to go into toxic shock from the toxins the bacteria are giving off.

> Unconsciousness will occur as the body becomes too weak to fight off this infection.

Now to the account of the "Ebola-like" outbreak in Shenzhen:

"2. According to this insider, in early January 2005, when conducting a suppressing smuggling campaign in Daya Bay, custom officials of Shenzhen City encountered a ship with unknown nationality.

3. The officials boarded the ship to investigate and the black sailors on the ship physically assaulted the Chinese officials, injuring two of them. One of the injured officials, Mr. Yang, died mysteriously in late February."

So, exposure is in early January and death occurs in late February. Yet if not properly treated, necrotizing fasciitis presents with critical symptoms (followed by death) within 4-5 days after infection! So Mr. Yang would have needed to be a superman to have lasted as long as he did, if he had contracted NF.

To return to the account:

"4. The other injured official, Mr. Jiang, is also missing after being forcibly taken away from Tianmian Garden located in the center of Shenzhen City.

5. It was revealed that the reason for their quarantine was that Mr. Yang's inamorata [*] vomited and had stomachache among with other symptoms in her residence in Buji district in early February. Two weeks after she was sent to a hospital in Buji district for treatment, she died mysteriously inside the hospital. Upon death, she had large area hemorrhage inside her body."

Here we find another superman -- superwoman, in this case. Mr. Yang's mistress managed to survive at least a week longer than a diagnosis of necrotizing fasciitis would warrant.

Now we turn to the sailors who presumably started it all. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, we don't know how long the "black" sailors were on the smuggling ship in Daya Bay before it was boarded by the unfortunate Messrs. Yang and Jiang.

But because there is no mention of the Ebola-like outbreak occurring in Shenzhen prior to the custom officials' encounter with the sailors on board the mystery ship, we can tentatively assume that if the illness they carried was NF, they must have contracted it a very few hours prior to the Chinese custom officials boarding their ship.

(If they'd had NF longer than a few hours, we must also credit the sailors with superhuman powers, which is what it would take to put up a vigorous fist fight while experiencing "diarrhea, nausea, fever, confusion, dizziness, weakness, and general malaise.")

So if we want to consider NF, there is a tiny window of opportunity before the story of the black sailors collapses into a Fish Tale. And there is no window of opportunity for the account of how Mr. Yang and his fancy woman met their death. If they were not properly treated for NF (and clearly they were not) they couldn't have lasted more than week.

On the other hand if they were infected with a strain of Ebola, the story also becomes hard to swallow when we consider that the doctor's eyewitness account of a "melted body" does not square with the symptoms of Ebola.

Also, we must consider that a doctor with "many years' experience," as he is described in the account, would recognize a gangrenous condition, which is what NF produces if untreated.

"Gangrene is necrosis and subsequent decay of body tissues caused by infection or thrombosis or lack of blood flow. It is usually the result of critically insufficient blood supply sometimes caused by injury and subsequent contamination with bacteria. This condition is most common in the extremities." From Wikipedia article on gangrene.)

NF presents with a gangrenous condition in the advanced or middle stage of infection (from the link you sent):

ADVANCED SYMPTOMS (usually within 3-4 days):
> The limb, or area of body experiencing pain begins to swell, and may show a purplish rash.

> The limb may begin to have large, dark marks, that will become blisters filled with blackish fluid.

> The wound may actually begin to appear necrotic with a bluish, white, or dark, mottled, flaky appearance.

Again, any doctor with long experience in a big city hospital would be familiar with gangrene. Unless we want to consider the theory that reader "Liz" put forward in August, which is that doctors in communist countries can have such specialized training that they can fail to recognize even the most elementary medical condition outside the specialization!

However, I think Liz was referring to communism's Cold War era. In any case, Shenzhen is a 'special business/free trade' zone, which means the city has many non-Chinese (Western, Singaporean, etc.) businesspeople in residence.

That doesn't mean state-of-the-art hospitals exist in Shenzhen but it's likely that hospitals in the city have a staff that could at least recognize a gangrenous condition, and that they'd treated instances of such. Yet the doctor of "many years' experience" who provided the account said that he'd never seen anything like the illness he treated.

If we rule out Ebola virus and flesh-eating bacteria, what are we left with? Was there any kind of disease outbreak in Shenzhen city in January 2005? I dunno, Dave. One thing I know with certainty: Pundita is getting tired of doing the kind of homework that US intelligence agencies find beneath them.

They had us off and running with the reports about an Ebola disease outbreak in Sichuan. Before sounding the alarm, the intel agencies needed to consider that without a shred of evidence in hand, they should have immdiately switched to a wide-angle lens when examining the situation.

For example, they needed to look at China's pork industry and look into the possibility of an industrial accident. Or even deliberate poisoning by big pork producers trying to put the Mom & Pop pig breeders in Sichuan out of business.

All that is baseline considerations when analyzing reports of a lethal, mysterious, highly infectious disease -- and reports of mass deaths in a province in China (Sichuan) that was rendered off-limits to foreign reporters, the CDC and WHO.

There doesn't seem to have been much progress since 9/11 with our intelligence analysis capabilities. Doesn't our government understand that they can't leave it up to bloggers and private intel companies such as Statfor to do the background digging for them?

In this era the US needs intelligence analysts who are aces at integrating a broad spectrum of data. The technology for collecting and massaging such data is, of course, already here. What seems to be lacking is the generalist viewpoint, which is needed for analyzing broad-spectrum data.

Without a strong representation of the generalist viewpoint, intel agencies are doing threat assessment in purely military terms, which cuts out many key factors. The upshot is US defense/foreign policy based on a skewed viewpoint.

With that off my chest, we'll buckle down to a little homework. It's time to take a closer look at the people who reportedly caught the disease mentioned in the March 25 Epoch Times article.

And ask whether there might have been anything else going on in Shenzhen city in the period from early January to March 25 -- anything other than a smuggling ship found in Daya Bay and a reported outbreak of Ebola virus infection.

So here we return to Pundita's "You're telling me this because?" rule of thumb for Americans (to include intelligence analysts) trying to make sense out of foreign policy/defense news -- in particular news relating to China.

Whatever the nature of the illness that reportedly broke out in Shenzhen city, there was also an outbreak of the Casablanca Factor. ("Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.")

I note that Yang and Jiang (reportedly stricken with an Ebola-like illness after a scuffle with "black" sailors in Daya Bay) were customs officials.

Not to speak ill of the dead and/or missing, but we can assume they were particularly corrupt officials. (From close reading of Epoch Times you'll note that keeping "fancy women" seems to be code in China for CCP officials widely known to be especially corrupt.)

So it might be worthwhile to take a look at Daya Bay and the Shenzhen free trade/'special' business zone, and recall the struggle between China's central authority and local authorities regarding who controls customs.

What is Daya Bay?:
Huizhou Daya Bay Economic and Technological Development Zone was approved as state-level development zone in May 1993. The zone has a developed area of 6.98 square kilometers.

Geographical Location
Huizhou Daya Bay Economic & Technological Development Area is situated in the southern part of Huizhou, Guangdong, facing the South Sea, neighboring Shantou on its east and connected to Shenzhen on its west. It is 60 kilometers away from Hong Kong by land, 47 nautical miles away from Zhonghuan wharf of Hong Kong.

It will be only 36 kilometers away from the downtown of Shenzhen after the class 1 highway is finished along the coastline between Macau and Shenzhen. The Zone is situated within the economic belt along the line of Beijing-Kowloon Railway and the center of the developed Pearl River Delta economic circle. [...]
The March 25 Epoch Times article on an outbreak of Ebola virus in Shenzhen appeared just five days after a trade meeting ended in Shenzhen.

The free trade zones have cut hugely into profits for customs officials who spent generations slapping extra duties on imports as a means to pad their meager salary.

And as with Sichuan's stick-in-the-mud pig farmers, if you'll pardon the expression, local time-honored ways of doing business in China have run smack-dab into the central government's rush to modernize China's business and trade practices.

Such a rush anywhere can be very hard on the people long settled in the old ways. In China, however, standing in the way of progress can be very dangerous to your life. Reference bao jia. When the central authority in China orders a local boss to remove obstructionists, they mean -- remove by any means whatsoever.

In other words, it might not be coincidental that out of all the towns in China and all Chinese in China, it happened to be two Daya Bay customs officials who caught a mysterious Ebola-like aliment and died or were never heard from again along with their families and fancy women.

In the final wash, the Epoch Times article threw more light on the situation with China's customs officials than a mystery disease. Messrs. Yang and Jiang were conveniently out of the way by the time an important American trade delegation showed up in Shenzhen city. Pundita doesn't need to consult her crystal ball to know that the untimely disappearance of customs officials, their families and fancy women was not lost on the rest of China's customs officials.

How important was the visiting delegation? It received press coverage from the China Daily, Bloomberg Asia, the Shenzhen Daily, and the Yangcheng Evening News.

Guangdong Province, China
March 12-20, 2005
Free Trade Alliance San Antonio (FTASA)
Greater Kelly Development Authority (GKDA)

Representatives of the GKDA (Bruce Miller, CEO and Jorge Canavati, Director of Marketing) and FTASA (Blake Hastings, Executive Director) traveled to the region Guangdong Province the week of March 12-20, 2005. The visit was conducted in coordination with the annual Asia Pacific American Chambers of Commerce held in Guangzhou, Guangdong. In addition, Tom Loeffler and Jose Martinez of the San Antonio-based Loeffler Group also participated in the conference.

During the visit, the San Antonio team met with officials from trade promotion and ecnomic development entities, provincial and local governments, and manufacturing and logistics companies. Special thanks go to the First Washington Asia (Holdings) ... in Guangzhou and their two principals Mr. Harley Seyedin and Mrs. Sun Hui for their tremendous support and help in arranging a very productive agenda for the FTASA and GKDA. In addition, thanks also go to the American Chamber of Commerce in Guangdong for their support and conference arrangements.

Trip Goals
There were four primary objectives of the trip:
1) Research – to provide the GKDA and the FTASA with a clearer
understanding of the trade and investment potential for KellyUSA and San
Antonio within the Pearl River Delta (PRD) region of Guangdong Province;

2) San Antonio and KellyUSA Awareness - to begin creating an awareness of San Antonio and KellyUSA as competitive alternatives for Chinese export manufacturers seeking to establish new sales and distribution channels/ locations in the United States;

3) Strategic Relationships - to develop collaborative relationships with trade promotion entities in the Guangdong region which can facilitate further trade
and investment development efforts of the GKDA and FTASA;

4) Representation Feasibility [...]

Before plowing through the rest of the above report, you might want to glance through this history of Free Trade Zones in China from a 2001 China Daily article. This will help us understand the problems faced by customs officials just trying to make extra dough and pay the bills for their fancy women:

"China's entry into the World Trade Organization will not mean the end of its 15 free trade zones but a chance for their improvement and perfection, according to an official with the administration of Tianjin Port Free Trade Zone.

Feng Zhijiang, deputy director of the administrative committee of the free trade zone, said, "Free trade zone is still a popular thing in the world, and it will play a more important role in China as the country completely opens up to the outside world."

About 50 kilometers from the city of Tianjin and 170 kilometers from Beijing, the seven-square-kilometer Tianjin Port Free Trade Zone has developed from a bleak sea shore to a lucrative home to about 4,000 domestic and overseas enterprises in 10 years.

By the end of 2000, the trade zone had attracted about US$5 billion investments, ranking after only Shanghai Waigaoqiao in the country. About 80 percent of the investments were foreign investments.

After opening Shenzhen and other three coastal cities in South China as special economic regions and then dozens of economic and technological development zones in the 1980s, the country introduced free trade zones in the early 1990s in 15 coast cities, including Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Tianjin.

These specially carved out cities and zones served as the country's centers to embrace foreign investments and international way of economic and trade practice.

Often located around major seaports, free trade zones are said to be "inside the territory but outside customs," -- companies registered here are exempt from complex customs regulation and tariffs and value-added taxes; they also enjoy a series of preferential treatment as in other special economic areas.

Since the local governments spent about 40 billion yuan (US$4.8 billion) to build the free trade zones in areas totaling 22 kilometers, a large number of domestic and overseas companies have settled down there.

By now, the contractual investments have amounted to more than US$16 billion. But people were worrying that when China enters WTO and gradually lowers the high tariffs to a moderate level, the free trade zone's duty-free policies may lose their edge.

"The zones are facing challenges when the country gradually lifts quotas of various imported goods and brings the tariff to a relatively low level," said Zhong Weilin, deputy director of the administrative committee of Shanghai Free Trade Zone.

He was attending a seminar last month with representatives from other 14 free trade zones, who gathered in Shenzhen to discuss the future of the free trade zones after China's admission into WTO. The companies might reconsider where their investment should go when preferential policies on duties or taxies are no longer too much different, Zhang said.

But Feng Zhijiang, who was also present at the Shenzhen seminar last month, said the tariffs are not the major element for free trade zones to attract foreign investments. The meaning of free trade zones' existence lies in their efficiency in processing goods, the speed to finish the customs procedures, the capability of cargo flow distributions, Feng said.

The free trade zones, which often have convenient geographic advantages and long been good at cargo processing and distribution, will develop themselves into distribution and trade centers for imports and exports.

He said it was true that the decade-old free trade zones in China still had much to do as the country lacks experience and a set of laws were still not in place. In the developed countries the free trade zones are directly administrated by the national governments, and all activities are governed by law.

While in China, the zones are watched by local governments, and what can be referred to are only some policies and regulations. It is urgent for the central government to draft a law regarding free trade zones so as to adjust the domestic trade zones onto the international track when the country joins WTO, Feng said."

The background reports in this post just scratch the surface. How about if the DIA and the CIA and Department of State's intelligence branch start earning their paychecks by doing a little more digging?

What worries me is that many Americans (including those in the news media) still talk about 9/11 as happening "out of the blue." Yet the only thing al Qaeda didn't do to warn of an impending attack was take out an advertisement in The New York Times.

I recall a weatherman observing that there is no such thing as a lightning bolt "out of the blue." If lighting appears, there is a cloud -- maybe high up, but lightning doesn't fall from a clear blue sky.

I do not know how the US can formulate intelligent defense/foreign policy for this era, if we continue to wear blinders while analyzing threats to US security, which includes the present instability in China.

China's central goverment is pushing their people too hard, too fast, in the effort to accommodate foreign business and the WTO. This has resulted in one disaster after another, which has led to widescale riots. Washington needs to take all this into account.

None of the above means that there wasn't a mysterious lethal disease outbreak in Shenzhen followed by an equally mysterious outbreak in Sichuan province. Indeed, none of it means Patricia Doyle's speculation is wrong; i.e., that there wasn't a biowar experiment in China that somehow jumped the lab. It means that the Pentagon, DOS and CIA need to get their act together. Else Americans will be sitting ducks for another bolt "out of the blue."

No comments: