While the earliest reports were rough machine translations from Chinese media, Hong Kong’s CHP very recently posted the following statement on their website:
The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health received notification from the Ministry of Health (MoH) today (February 10) concerning two confirmed human cases of influenza A (H5N1) in Guizhou.
A CHP spokesman said the patients were a 21-year-old woman and a 31-year-old man living in Guizhou. They are now in critical condition. Both patients did not report obvious exposure history to poultry before the onset of symptoms. There is no epidemiological link between these two cases.
Laboratory tests on the patients' specimen by the Mainland health authorities yielded a positive result for H5N1.
The CHP is maintaining close liaison with the MoH to obtain more information on the case. "We will heighten our vigilance and continue to maintain stringent port health measures in connection with this development," the spokesman said.
The spokesman reminded members of the public to remain vigilant against avian influenza infection and to observe the following measures:
- Avoid direct contact with poultry and birds or their droppings; if contacts have been made, they should wash hands thoroughly with soap and water;
- Poultry and eggs should be thoroughly cooked before eating;
- Wash hands frequently;
- Cover nose and mouth while sneezing or coughing, hold the spit with tissue and put it into covered dustbins;
- Avoid crowded places and contact with sick people with fever;
- Wear a mask when you have respiratory symptoms or need to take care of patients with fever;
- When you have fever and influenza-like illnesses during a trip or when coming back to Hong Kong, you should consult doctors promptly and reveal your travel history.
For further information on avian influenza, please visit the CHP's website (www.chp.gov.hk).
As I’ve mentioned recently (see Health Vigilance For The Chinese New Years), much of Asia is celebrating the Lunar New Year this week by taking part in Chunyun - or the Spring Festival travel season – which sparks the largest human migration on the planet.
Chunyun begins about 15 days before the Lunar New Year and runs for about 40 days total, during which time more than 2 billion passenger journeys will be made (mostly via crowded rail and bus) across Asia.
Which makes this a particularly worrying time of the year to see human infections in China from the H5N1 virus.
The good news is – so far - the bird flu virus has failed to transmit efficiently from human-to-human. Clusters among people have been rare events, as the virus remains more adapted to avian physiology than human.
But the concern is, given enough time and opportunity, the virus could eventually figure us out. So we watch these scattered reports of human infection with great interest, always looking for signs of change in the behavior of the virus.