- HONG KONG, China (AFP) --
Bird flu may have become more virulent, increasing the risk to humans,
Hong Kong's health chief warned on Friday following the latest infection
in a neighbouring Chinese city.
- China on Thursday confirmed its 19th human case of bird
flu, a 31-year-old man from the southern economic boom town of Shenzhen,
bordering Hong Kong, who is critically ill in hospital.
- Health Secretary York Chow said he was particularly worried
about the latest H5N1 infection as it had occurred in a city-dweller with
no history of close or prolonged contact with poultry.
- The fact that the infection occurred in the summer, rather
than the winter like most other outbreaks, was a further cause for concern,
- "We have a suspicion, but we have not confirmed
it yet, that the virus might have become more virulent and more widespread
than we have expected. If that is the case, the risk for humans to be infected
in future is higher," he warned.
- Humans are believed to contract the virus mainly from
direct contact with infected animals. Scientists fear a global pandemic
if the virus mutates and becomes easily transmissible between humans.
- Chow said the authorities would continue to monitor the
situation for similar cases, warning there might be more outbreaks among
poultry and human infections in the coming winter.
- The patient, a truck driver who remained critical in
hospital, came down with fever and pneumonia-like symptoms on June 3. Test
results released on Thursday confirmed the potentially deadly H5N1 strain
of bird flu.
- Investigation found he visited a local market, where
live poultry was sold, several times before he became ill. None of the
people who were in close contact with him had shown any symptoms, the authorities
- He was the 19th human to have contracted the strain in
China. Twelve of those cases have been fatal.
- Hong Kong has been particularly concerned about the case
in Shenzhen as thousands of people cross the border daily from Shenzhen
and Guangdong province.
- The Hong Kong government said it was maintaining temperature
screening at immigration for all arrivals, with customs stepping up surveillance
to combat smuggling of poultry into the territory.
- Hong Kong was the scene of the world's first reported
major bird-flu outbreak among humans in 1997, when six people died and
more than two million poultry were culled.
- But the southern Chinese territory has remained free
of bird flu since early 2003 with stringent border control and reduction
of the number of poultry imports from China.
- More than 120 people worldwide have died from bird flu
since it re-emerged as a threat in 2003, with most of the victims in Asia.
- Patricia A. Doyle DVM, PhD
- Bus Admin, Tropical Agricultural Economics
- Univ of West Indies
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