H7N9 Bird Flu Infects First Human In Hong Kong, Alerts Raised
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
The deadly H7N9 bird flu strain that has so far sickened 139 people in eastern China and Taiwan since April, has now been confirmed in the southeastern island city of Hong Kong.
H7N9, which has killed 45 people so far, was discovered in a 36-year-old Indonesian domestic helper, said Ko Wing-man, Hong Kong’s health secretary.
According to Ko, the woman had occasionally traveled to the neighboring mainland city of Shenzhen, where she bought, slaughtered and ate chickens. The woman was admitted to Queen Mary Hospital on November 27 and remains in critical condition. Her close contacts have also been isolated in the hospital until further notice.
Ko said that Hong Kong has now raised its level of preparedness for an influenza pandemic to “serious.”
Human infection of H7N9 was first reported in China in March and rose through mid-April before authorities moved to close down live poultry markets and cull millions of potentially infected birds. That process limited human exposure and infections began to subside.
Hong Kong had instated a moratorium on live poultry markets 16 years ago to prevent bird flu from spreading throughout the city. But it now appears that the virus may be circulating less than 30 miles from downtown Hong Kong, based on the latest infection.
And despite the efforts to stave off mass infection, officials are worried that the virus will rear its ugly head this winter, furthering the fears of a widespread pandemic.
Ko said Hong Kong has now suspended the import of live chickens from three farms in Shenzhen to further curb the spread of the virus and plans to inspect Hong Kong chicken farms and poultry markets. Shanghai had also noted it will suspend live poultry trading from January 31 to April 30 to prevent a recurrence of the H7N9 bird flu outbreak, according to state-owned Xinhua news agency.
Hong Kong takes the threat of a new disease very seriously after the SARS outbreak in 2003 killed 299 of its citizens, as well as a total of 744 worldwide.
While health officials remain on high alert following the most recent infection, experts say it is actually rare for avian flu strains to infect humans. They have been around for a very long time in birds and only occasionally do they mutate to the point that they can make the leap to humans.
A report published in The Lancet journal in October maintained that closure of live poultry markets would go a long way in curbing H7N9 outbreaks.