November 18, 2010

Hong Kong Reports First Bird Flu Case In 7 Years

Health officials said Thursday that the first human case of bird flu in seven years has been diagnosed in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Department of Health said that a 59-year-old woman was hospitalized in serious condition after a trip to mainland China.

She was diagnosed as having influenza A (H5), a variant of bird flu.  Officials said that it was unclear where she had contracted the disease.

Her 60-year-old husband also developed possible symptoms of bird flu, but has since recovered.

Hong Kong health officials stepped up surveillance by testing patients with severe pneumonia for bird flu.  They have also launched a hotline to answer questions from the public regarding the infection.

Avian influenza does not normally infect species other than birds and pigs.  However, human cases were reported in Hong Kong in 1997, with the H5N1 strain infecting 18 humans, six of whom died.

Hong Kong's entire poultry population of 1.5 million birds was destroyed within three days, which is thought to have averted a pandemic.

Symptoms of the 1997 strain were fever, sore throat, cough and severe respiratory distress.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), antiviral drugs can be used to help prevent humans from contracting the virus, but it may take months in order to develop a vaccine in significant quantities for a new virus subtype.

Health chief York Chow said there was no sign so far that the virus has spread between humans and that investigations were focusing on poultry as being the source of the infection.

"But we will be concentrating on people who were in contact with her when she showed symptoms and also when she was in Hong Kong," the AFP news agency quoted him as saying.

"The chances of her catching it is most likely on the mainland, but you cannot rule out Hong Kong," he said.

Chow said officials would meet on Thursday to determine what further actions needed to be done.

According to WHO, over 500 cases of bird flu have been diagnosed around the world since 2003.  Of those, 302 cases were fatal.


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