H7N9 avian flu

Disease expert warns of bird flu outbreak as winter approaches

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 October, 2013, 5:52am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 October, 2013, 5:52am

A top mainland respiratory disease expert has urged Hong Kong to remain vigilant over the deadly H7N9 bird flu as it was "unpredictable" and could cause an outbreak in winter.

Chinese Academy of Sciences fellow Dr Zhong Nanshan said Hong Kong should maintain its current early-diagnosis strategy in order to prevent a spread if there was an infection case.

"If a sick person has a history of travelling to infected areas or has had contact with poultry, antibiotics should be issued immediately without hesitation," he said. "It should be done as early as possible, even without the test result."

Zhong was speaking yesterday at a Chinese University lecture, "From Sars to H7N9 - Management of Acute Respiratory Virus Infection in China".

He explained that the antibiotic Tamiflu was effective in treating the virus, provided it was administered within the first three days of infection.

"We used to treat patients with the medicine seven days after they were infected, since we did not know about this before," he said. "We now know that this [administering the drug within three days of infection] is the key to treatment only after having gone through all the cases."

Although winter was usually influenza peak season, Zhong said it was hard to predict if there would be more cases in the coming months or whether the virus had mutated. There have so far been 135 H7N9 cases on the mainland, with 35 deaths.

Zhong said culling poultry might be a good way to prevent a further spread of the virus, but that there was resistance from the poultry industry on the mainland.

"H7N9 only makes humans sick, but chickens are not sickened by it. So it is hard for the industry to be willing to cull their chickens," he said. "We can only ask them to tighten surveillance."

According to Zhong, a 35-year-old man in Shaoxing county, Zhejiang province , who was admitted to a township hospital on October 8 with H7N9, remained in critical condition yesterday.