A total of nine people have now contracted H7N9 avian influenza in the Eastern provinces of the country. Three men have died in Zhejiang and Shanghai, with a further six people critically ill in hospital. It is understood that one of the men who died was a butcher, while one of the women taken ill was a poultry worker.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said the cases were of particular concern because they were “the first reported cases of this avian influenza virus in humans”. It added that, so far, no epidemiological link had been made between the patients, suggesting that the outbreak had not spread by human-to-human transmission.
“The Chinese government is actively investigating this event and has heightened disease surveillance for early detection, diagnosis and treatment. Infection prevention and control has been strengthened in health-care settings,” said a WHO spokesperson.
“Communication efforts between human and animal health and industry sectors have increased. The government has advised the population to maintain good personal hygiene, including frequent handwashing and avoiding direct contact with sick or dead animals.”
Hong Kong concern
Hong Kong’s Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, said that the lack of an epidemiological link was worrying, because it suggested that the patients had all contracted the disease from different sources. “This will have an implication as to whether there is a spreading of this new H7N9 virus among poultry in the mainland,” he said.
The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health (DH) of Hong Kong said that it would step up surveillance for bird flu in human and bird populations and inform doctors and hospitals of the situation. “We will heighten our vigilance and continue to maintain stringent port health measures in connection with this development,” said a CHP spokesperson.
The CHP has issued warnings urging people to avoid contact with birds, ensure poultry and eggs are cooked thoroughly before eating and take extra precautions, such as avoiding crowded places and wearing a mask when in contact with patients showing signs of fever.
Meanwhile, authorities in China said tests on 16,000 pig carcases dumped in rivers around Shanghai had proven negative for avian influenza, suggesting they were not the source of the outbreak.