A respected Japanese virologist shocked colleagues at a meeting in Germany last week when he passed on a confidential disclosure from Chinese scientists that 300 people have died from H5N1 bird flu in China – not two, as Beijing has reported to the world.

Masato Tashiro, head of virology at Tokyo’s National Institute of Infectious Disease – a center for avian flu research collaborating with the World Health Organization – said his Chinese sources, who, if discovered, face arrest for disclosing the extent of the outbreak, told him seven of the deaths involved human-to-human transmission.

As WorldNetDaily has reported, scientists fear the virus acquiring sufficient human genes to allow transmission from one person to another – a development that could unleash a pandemic claiming an estimated 2 million to 7.4 million people around the world, the WHO estimates.

Tashiro told the stunned researchers, gathered to celebrate the retirement of a German colleague, there had been “several dozen” human outbreaks, 300 confirmed deaths and 3,000 suspected cases that had been quarantined, New Scientist reports.

“We have been systematically deceived,” Tashiro said.

Tashiro told the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung five Chinese medical personnel had already been arrested for attempting to publicize the actual death toll.

The Japanese virologist was recently in Hunan province, site of a recent outbreak, where he worked with Chinese scientists on behalf of WHO.

A WHO spokesman said the U.N. organization had been informed by the Chinese Ministry of Health that “these rumors have been investigated” and they are without foundation.

Given the widespread reported infections in poultry flocks, however, some virologists have been perplexed at the near absence of cases reported in humans. The virus causing the outbreak in Hunan is identical to the one responsible for 113 confirmed human cases and 55 deaths in Vietnam and Thailand, WHO reports.

An independent Chinese website, Boxun News, reported the death of 77 health workers – including 14 by name – recently brought in to stem rampant poultry outbreaks in Liaoning province.

Previous stories:

Bird-flu epidemic in humans ‘science fiction’

Officials warn of catastrophic flu pandemic

Previous columns:

U.S. travel restrictions?

The survival crapshoot

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.