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Bird Flu Infected Man in China Before Reports to WHO
posted by admin on 22/06/06

June 21 (Bloomberg)

China had at least one case of lethal bird flu two years before the country reported any infections to officials at the World Health Organization, according to a letter to a scientific journal.

The case occurred in a 24-year-old man in November 2003, according to a letter in today's New England Journal of Medicine. The first human case reported to the WHO during the current bird flu outbreak occurred in Vietnam in December 2003, and China reported its first case to the WHO in November 2005.

Doctors originally suspected the man died of severe acute respiratory disease, or SARS, the lung virus that infected more than 8,000 people in 2002 and 2003, killing 774. The letter, written by eight Chinese scientists, didn't say when the samples were analyzed.

The H5N1 bird flu strain was identified in birds in China in 1996, and was first diagnosed in people in 1997, when it caused 18 infections and six deaths. Since then, at least 150 million birds in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe have been killed by the virus or culled to prevent its spread.

Health officials began counting human cases of H5N1 in late 2003 after the large outbreaks in birds began. Since then, the virus has infected 228 people, killing 130 of them, mostly through close contact with poultry.

The authors of the letter asked editors at the New England Journal to allow them to withdraw it early today. Since the report was already printed in this week's issue, a withdrawal wasn't possible. The editors are still trying to uncover the problem and a future correction or retraction is possible, said Karen Pederson, a spokeswoman for the journal.

Qing-Yu Zhu, from the State Key Laboratory of Pathogens and Biosecurity in Beijing, was the first author on the letter. The work was funded by grants from the National Task Force of China and the 973 High-Tech Projects Plan.

To contact the reporter on this story:
John Lauerman in Boston at jlauerman@bloomberg.net.

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