The Hong Kong government 's Centre for Health Protection yesterday recommended that tests for H7N9 bird flu on locally raised chickens be stepped up, with its experts seeing a rising risk of human infection.
Blood tests for H5 bird flu are conducted on locally raised chickens and if the results are positive, a rapid test for H7 on the samples is conducted. Results for a rapid test are ready in four to five hours. But the blood samples are taken 10 days before the poultry go to the market, so there are concerns that any infection that develops in those 10 days may not be found.
A rapid test is performed on chickens imported from the mainland regardless of the blood test results, and experts from the centre concluded after a meeting yesterday that this practice should be extended to local poultry.
"This has to be considered, as the risk is now increasing," said University of Hong Kong microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung, chairman of the centre's scientific committee on emerging and zoonotic diseases - those that can be transmitted from animals to humans.
This came as a 58-year-old porter became the third patient in Fujian to be diagnosed with the H7N9 virus yesterday.
The man, from Cangshan district in Fuzhou , was admitted to the Fujian Provincial Hospital on Sunday after suffering a persistent fever five days earlier. He tested positive for the virus yesterday and is in serious condition.
The case takes the number of cases of H7N9 across the nation to 127; 24 patients have died. The disease has so far been confined to the mainland.
Yuen said the risk of contracting bird flu from chickens raised at local farms was lower than from imported birds because poultry in Hong Kong were regularly tested from birth. This was also why more resources had been focused on imported birds.
The committee decided to suggest to the Agriculture and Fisheries Conservation Department that testing be stepped up on locally raised chickens.
The H7N9 virus was found in pigeons in the mainland, but HKU test results on samples from 60 pigeons in Hong Kong since the outbreak were all negative.
The Dongguan government in Guangdong has so far culled 89,864 birds in a wholesale market after identifying suspicious H7 cases. Dr Leung Ting-hung, controller of the Hong Kong centre, said if H7N9 infections were confirmed in poultry in Guangdong, a ban on mainland poultry imports would be considered.
View H7N9 map in a larger map
Click on each balloon for more information on individual patients infected: blue, patients infected with the H7N9 virus under treatment; red, those infected with H7N9 who have died; yellow, those who have fully recovered; and pink, those infected other types of the Influenza A virus, including H1N1.