An 80-year-old man yesterday became the first person infected with the H7N9 strain of bird flu to die in Hong Kong.
The victim, a Hongkonger who lived in Shenzhen, came to the city on December 3 for treatment for diabetes and a heart condition at Tuen Mun Hospital. After displaying flu symptoms three days later, he was discovered to have bird flu and isolated at Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung for intensive care treatment. He died at the hospital yesterday and the case has been referred to the coroner.
One leading scientist said the bird flu virus was more likely to cause complications in a patient with pre-existing conditions.
He was the second patient in Hong Kong confirmed to have H7N9 bird flu. The first, 36-year-old Indonesian domestic helper Tri Mawarti, remained in a stable condition at Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam last night.
Both are thought to have contracted the condition in Shenzhen, where the virus was found at two wet markets. Mawarti is thought to have handled live poultry from one of the markets, while the man is thought to have eaten chicken from the markets.
"Even though this is the first fatal case in Hong Kong, it does not mean that the risk of H7N9 has increased," said University of Hong Kong microbiologist Dr Ho Pak-leung. Ho said elderly people with underlying conditions were more likely to suffer complications from an infection.
Some 161 people who had contact with the man were placed under medical observation, but all tested negative for the virus. They included three relatives who brought him to Hong Kong and a taxi driver who picked him up. The man had been treated for heart disease at a Shenzhen hospital last month.
There have been 143 confirmed H7N9 bird flu cases on the mainland, in Taiwan and Hong Kong, with more than 40 deaths.