Chinese researchers have revealed that a Chinese man died of the H5N1 bird flu virus two years before China reported its first human case to the World Health Organisation in November 2005.
The eight researchers reported in a letter in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine on the genetic blueprint of H5N1 virus isolated from the man, who died in November 2003.
That case predates any of the confirmed cases that have been reported to WHO – officially, the first human cases in this outbreak occurred in Vietnam in December of 2003.
China maintained through 2004 and most of 2005 that it had found no human cases of the disease.
A spokesperson for the WHO’s China office said officials will be seeking answers from the Chinese Ministry of Health about the discrepancy.
The letter is signed by Dr. Qing-Yu Zhu, Dr. E-De Qin, Dr. Wei Wang, Jun Yu, Bo-Hua Liu, Yi Hu, Jian-Fei Hu and Dr. Wu-Chun Cao. The researchers are from a variety of well known Beijing-based scientific institutions, including 309th Hospital of the People’s Liberation Army and the State Key Laboratory of Pathogens and Biosecurity.
The eight wrote of the case of a 24-year-old man who had pneumonia and respiratory distress in November 2003. Doctors thought he was suffering from SARS.
The man tested negative for SARS, but H5N1 was found in tissue from his lungs. The letter does not state when the testing was done or how long it has been known that the man died from H5N1.