Photo credit Hong Kong’s CHP
Winter is coming, and along with that comes enhanced transmission of many respiratory viruses. Some are perennial visitors like seasonal influenza (currently H3N2, H1N1, & Victoria and Yamagata B strains), RSV, myriad strains of Rhinovirus, multiple adenoviruses, etc.
Others are more exotic, but thankfully - so far - very rare. They include the MERS coronavirus, the H5N1 virus (and all its permutations/clades), and the recently emerged H7N9 virus in Mainland China.
Last August, we also saw a warning on a new strain of H7N7, found to have emerged in Chinese poultry at roughly the same time as H7N9 (see Nature: Genesis Of The H7N9 Virus). It is unknown, right now, just how much of a player this virus will be down the road. And to this list, we can add in the variant swine flu viruses (H3N2v, H1N2v, H1N1v), which while not making as much of a impact this year in humans, continue to circulate in swine.
Trying to identify a rare virus, against the backdrop of our yearly winter flu epidemic, is always a challenge. This year, with so many emerging viruses in the mix, that job has become far more complex. Nowhere is that task more appreciated than in Hong Kong, which receives frequent travelers from both the Middle East and Mainland China.
The following press release from http://www.info.gov.hk describes meetings ongoing between Hong Kong’s Secretary of Food & Health (SFH) – Dr. Ko Wing-man – and Mainland Chinese officials on joint measures to prevent the spread of the H7N9 virus. AQSIQ mentioned in the report is Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine of the People's Republic of China.
Hong Kong will continue to communicate with the State General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) and experts of Guangdong, Macao, Shenzhen and Zhuhai to study enhanced monitoring measures against avian influenza H7N9, as the risk of the disease has not yet been eliminated and should not be treated lightly. Continuous assessment of the risk and close surveillance of the disease are necessary.
The above remarks were made by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, when addressing the opening ceremony of the 2013 Guangdong, Hong Kong, Macao, Shenzhen, Zhuhai Health, Animal and Plant Quarantine and Food Safety Control Meeting in Shenzhen today (November 7).
"Since the confirmation of human cases of avian influenza H7N9 on the Mainland early this year, we have been maintaining close contact with the AQSIQ. The AQSIQ has kept us abreast of the latest development of the disease and the corresponding preventive and control measures adopted with regard to health inspection and quarantine as well as safety of live poultry and poultry products supplied to Hong Kong.
"As regards live poultry and poultry products supplied to Hong Kong, the relevant Mainland authorities have already taken a series of measures, including enhancing the surveillance measures, increasing the sampling ratio and the frequency of farm inspections, and introducing rapid test for avian influenza H7 antigen and antibodies. These measures help ensure the safety of live poultry and poultry products supplied to Hong Kong, fortify the public's confidence in consuming imported live chickens, and safeguard public and animal health," Dr Ko said.
Dr Ko added that experts from Guangdong, Hong Kong, Macao, Shenzhen and Zhuhai will discuss and study other measures to strengthen the monitoring of avian influenza H7 at the meeting. He hoped the experts could reach a consensus soon.
After the opening ceremony, Dr Ko witnessed the signing of an action plan on facilitation of inspection and quarantine clearance by representatives of the five places. The action plan reaffirms and strengthens exchange and co-operation in areas including health inspection and quarantine issues, animal and plant quarantine, food safety control and clearance facilitation.
The 2013 Guangdong, Hong Kong, Macao, Shenzhen, Zhuhai Health, Animal and Plant Quarantine and Food Safety Control Meeting is held today and tomorrow, covering topics including health inspection and quarantine; animals, foods of animal origin, plants and foods of plant origin supplied to Hong Kong and Macao from the Mainland; and food safety.
Other representatives of the Hong Kong delegation attending the meeting include the Permanent Secretary for Food and Health (Food), Mrs Marion Lai; the Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation, Mr Alan Wong; and the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene, Mr Clement Leung.
Ends/Thursday, November 7, 2013
Issued at HKT 20:35
While no one knows if the H7N9 virus will ever pose a genuine pandemic threat, the level of concern in Hong Kong and Mainland China as winter approaches is palpable.