Fri, Aug 11, 2006 - Page 4 News List

China denies cover-up in 2003 avian flu death


China yesterday denied covering up a 2003 human death from bird flu which was only confirmed this week, but admitted shortcomings in its disease reporting.

"At that time there was an outbreak of SARS. This case had similar symptoms to SARS but clinical tests based on SARS standards determined it was not a SARS case," Vice Health Minister Jiang Zuojun (蔣作君) said.

"So scientific researchers were trying to determine what type of disease it was. As it was a sudden and new infectious disease, they had not completely diagnosed it," Jiang told a news conference.

"It took time for scientific researchers to study the disease," Jiang said.

Jiang added that at the time, scientific institutions were not legally required to report infectious diseases and that only after 2004 was bird flu made a disease that must by law be reported.

"This problem exposes that our scientific research institutions in the future should strengthen communication and contacts with our disease prevention organizations," Jiang said.

Jiang declined to say whether it was possible that bird flu had been around in mainland China even earlier than 2003.

Hong Kong experts have long suspected that the viral disease, spread from birds including poultry to humans, had been in the mainland for a long time, but had been dormant.

"We should say the 2003 case is the first case. We have no evidence of cases before 2003," Jiang said.

He said that the ministry had no plans to carry out an investigation into possible cases before 2003.

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