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Confirmed 2003 AI death in China first case in current outbreak

The Ministry of Health in China has retrospectively confirmed a human case of H5N1 bird flu infection dating back to November 2003.

The case occurred in a 24-year-old man who developed symptoms on 25 November 2003 and was hospitalised with pneumonia in Beijing. His condition deteriorated rapidly and he died of severe respiratory disease on 3 December 2003.

Confirmation of this case marks the earliest known instance of human H5N1 avian influenza infection in mainland China, and is now the first confirmed case in the present outbreak. Previously, the first confirmed cases were thought to have occurred in Vietnam in December 2003.

Retrospective confirmation of the case brings the cumulative total in China to 20. Of these cases, 13 have been fatal.

The case has been added to the World Health Organisation (WHO) cumulative table of confirmed cases which today shows a total of 235 cases and 137 deaths from bird flu.

The case in China was initially reported by several local researchers, affiliated with the military services, in a June 2006 letter to the New England Journal of Medicine. According to that communication, doctors initially suspected the man might have been infected with the SARS virus.

As the man's illness was initially thought to be SARS, no history of possible poultry exposure was taken. The source of his H5N1 infection remains uncertain, particularly as no poultry outbreaks of H5N1 avian influenza have been reported in Beijing.

The Ministry of Health has informed WHO of its intention to strengthen communication mechanisms, and to ensure that more of the country's research institutes are integrated into the reporting system. WHO will be providing support and guidance in these activities, as officially requested.

Editor WorldPoultry

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