Fears of a bird flu outbreak emerged in Hong Kong this week, after a woman was confirmed to be suffering from the deadly H7N9 flu strain. According to the government, this is the first confirmed case of bird flu in the city this winter.
The unnamed 68-year-old woman was admitted to an area hospital Thursday after first experiencing symptoms on December 19. According to the Hong Kong government, the case is classified as “imported,” as it seems the woman had recently returned from the Longgang district of Shenzhen in mainland China. Shenzhen is the location of the first human case of the deadly bird flu strain, reported back in 2013.
Apparently, the woman was not exposed to live poultry, but did eat “home cooked” chicken during her stay in Shenzen. Government officials are now endeavoring to track down the woman’s friends, who may have also been exposed to the virus.
According to the World Health Organization, the first known human case of the H7N9 bird flu strain was reported during March 2013, and subsequently spread to Hong Kong in December of that year, killing three people. Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection (CHP) said all patients had reportedly contracted the virus in mainland China.
While other avian H7 viruses (H7N2, H7N3 and H7N7) have occasionally been found to infect humans, those cases have generally resulted in only mild symptoms. In contrast, H7N9 is a particularly virulent strain of avian flu, causing severe respiratory illness in most patients and killing about one-third of those infected.
Most cases of avian H7N9 virus are believed to result from exposure to infected poultry or contaminated environments, although it is possible that limited person-to-person transmission could occur in some circumstances. However, the WHO says there is no evidence of sustained person-to-person spread of H7N9.
Hospitals in Hong Kong are introducing measures to both monitor and contain cases of influenza, even cutting down on visiting hours in an attempt to control matters. The crackdown occurred after the Hong Kong government raised the influenza pandemic response level in the city to “serious.”
ABC News reports that back in January 2014, authorities in Hong Kong slaughtered 20,000 chickens after finding the virus in poultry imported from Guangdong in southern China. Officials then imposed a four-month ban on live poultry imports from mainland China, in an effort to guard against the deadly flu.
The influenza pandemic level in the city will not, apparently, affect the import of poultry for now, as officials have introduced “rapid testing” to check incoming birds for the virus. However, a spokesman told ABC News they will closely monitor the situation and take appropriate measures as needed.
According to CHP, there have been 469 reported cases of H7N9 in mainland China since the first human infection was reported in 2013.