City on alert for bird flu as virus kills Hubei woman

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 June, 2010, 12:00am

Hong Kong is on alert against bird flu after a pregnant woman in Hubei province died of the infectious disease on Thursday.

The death, the first this year, was disclosed last night by the Ministry of Health, which has also notified the World Health Organisation, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

The news came just days after the Hong Kong government shelved a 13-year-old plan for a central slaughterhouse for live poultry, saying the risk of bird flu had diminished.

Health authorities in the city were still gathering information about the case last night, checking whether chickens were imported from Hubei and assessing the need for increased border checks on live poultry from the mainland.

The ministry said the woman - who was 22, jobless and four months' pregnant - lived in Ezhou city in Hubei. She fell ill on May 23 and was admitted to intensive care when her condition deteriorated.

The province's centre for disease control and prevention found the deadly H5N1 virus in samples taken from the woman's respiratory tract after she died. The finding was confirmed by the national centre for disease control yesterday.

A preliminary investigation indicated the woman had a history of contact with poultry before she became ill, but there has been no report of bird flu at poultry farms in the area.

The ministry said Hubei authorities had taken the case seriously and imposed prevention and contingency measures. Those who had close contact with the victim are also being closely watched and monitored, but so far all are in good health.

Hong Kong health officials shelved plans for a central poultry slaughterhouse on Tuesday. They said it was no longer required as the risk of an outbreak had become very low after the government began buying back licences and banned vendors from keeping live poultry at markets overnight.

Hong Kong was the ground zero of the avian flu outbreak in humans. Six people were killed in 1997 by the deadly virus and millions of chickens have since been culled after outbreaks at local farms.

Currently, frozen and chilled chickens account for 94 per cent of the poultry consumed in Hong Kong, compared with 60 per cent before. Between 2004 and 2008, the number of stalls selling live chickens dropped from more than 800 to 133, after the licence buyback and ban on poultry kept overnight at markets.

Plan shelved

Death comes two days after officials said risk of bird flu had diminished

Between 2004 and 2008, the number of market stalls selling live chickens dropped from more than 800 to: 133