China reviews death in 2003 for bird flu

By Associate Press
Published July 1, 2006

BEIJING - China's Health Ministry is investigating whether a man initially thought to have SARS actually died of bird flu in 2003, two years before Beijing reported its first human case of the disease, the World Health Organization said Friday.

The man's case was brought to light in a letter Chinese scientists published in the June 22 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, said Roy Wadia, a WHO spokesman in Beijing.

The Health Ministry said it was not aware of the case and would do its own internal investigation, Wadia said.

He said tests were being conducted on samples from the man.

The ministry did not respond to telephone and faxed requests for comment.

The case raises troubling questions about China's ability to track emerging diseases and cooperate with international organizations like WHO. It also raises the possibility that other cases attributed to severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, may actually have been infections by the deadly H5N1 bird virus.

Wadia said the man died in November 2003 at a military hospital in Beijing. Military hospitals, which answer to the secretive People's Liberation Army, figured prominently in a coverup of the spread of SARS in Beijing in the spring of 2003.