The recent letter from Chinese doctors published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which claims China may have had a case of bird flu as early as 2003, is indeed disturbing.The official story is that the first human case appeared here in 2005, and so the letter brings up the usual cries of indignation about the information-distorting practices of the Chinese government. That such information distorting occurs is not a matter for debate. We all know about the type of censoring going on at the highest levels of government in this country.
Adding further to the intrigue about the letter were subsequent reports that one of the authors had sent frantic emails to the NEJM asking for the letter to be withdrawn. It was too late, as they had already gone to press. But the website version of the letter (linked above) carries a note that says the supposed author of the emails, Dr Cao Wu Chun, said those emails were not written by him, and that he does not wish the letter to be withdrawn.
The most revealing part of the letter is the first paragraph, which states that the patient was diagnosed with SARS as he had the clinical symptoms of that disease, but that tissue tests later came up negative for SARS. Later tests showed remarkable similarity to H5N1, bird flu.
Before jumping to the conclusion that the government knew it had a case of bird flu and covered it up (which is entirely possible), we should wait to see the reaction from Beijing (if there is any). This would be a great chance to prove to the world that they are willing to cooperate openly with the global health authorities in preventing an epidemic.