BEIJING -- China announced its fourth confirmed SARS case of the season Saturday, saying the patient had already left the hospital after "total recovery" -- a disclosure that prompted a strongly worded statement from the World Health Organization urging an urgent investigation.
The 40-year-old doctor fell ill on Jan. 7 with a high fever, sore throat and fatigue, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It cited an unnamed spokesman from the Health Ministry.
The man -- identified only by his family name, Liu -- checked himself into a hospital Jan. 13, Xinhua said. Within five days, "his body temperature dropped to normal and his condition stabilized." Liu "was already discharged from hospital several days ago upon total recovery," Xinhua said.
The doctor denied having any contact with animals or SARS patients, the report said.
Avow to be more open
Criticized for its sluggish, secretive response last year after the initial outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, the Chinese government has vowed to be more open and has since mounted an aggressive campaign against the disease.
According to Xinhua, Guangzhou experts diagnosed Liu as a suspected case on Jan. 24 and the health ministry was informed two days later. It was not immediately clear why no word about him was released until Saturday.
Liu's case was announced the same day that two new suspected outbreaks of bird flu were reported in Guangdong and central Hubei province. The potentially fatal disease, which has ravaged poultry in much of Asia, has killed at least 10 people. Millions of chickens in 10 countries have been slaughtered.
China's first confirmed case of bird flu was announced Tuesday in a duck in the southern region of Guangxi. On Friday, the government announced confirmed cases in its central provinces of Hunan and Hubei and suspected cases in Shanghai, Guangdong and Anhui, an eastern province.
No human infections have been reported in China so far.
Asian governments, meanwhile, sought to reassure the public that the virus was under control and poultry was safe to consume if properly cooked.
The first known case of SARS emerged in Guangdong in November 2002. A subsequent worldwide outbreak killed 774 people last year, including 349 in mainland China, and sickened more than 8,000 before subsiding last July.
This season's three other patients in China -- a businessman, a waitress and a television producer -- have been released from the hospital in recent weeks. All were from Guangzhou.
Earlier, WHO said it was important for health authorities to trace how the patients became sick as soon as possible.
"Now we have four cases without a concrete source of infection," said Roy Wadia, a WHO spokesman in Beijing. "It's something we're very concerned about."