H7N9 virus

Hong Kong man dies in first imported case of bird flu this winter

He is suspected to have caught the virus during a visit to Changping in Guangdong province

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 December, 2016, 5:23pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 December, 2016, 10:46pm

A 75-year-old man in the first imported case of bird flu this winter has died after being admitted to hospital following a visit to mainland China, health authorities confirmed.

The Hongkonger, who went to Changping in Guangdong province in late November, passed away at North District Hospital in Sheung Shui, New Territories on Christmas Day, according to a statement from the Centre for Health Protection.

The exact cause of death is not known, but the man was known to have had other underlying chronic illnesses.

He was initially diagnosed with pneumonia when he was admitted to the hospital on December 9.

A later test confirmed that he was positive for the H7N9 virus, and Hong Kong health officials last week declared the incident as the first imported case of bird flu this winter.

Health minister Dr Ko Wing-man said last Wednesday the man admitted he visited a mainland wet market and bought slaughtered chickens. He initially denied coming into any recent contact with poultry or visiting a wet market.

The patient had been isolated and listed as being in a serious condition.

At least 51 people who had close contact with him, including those who lived with him and health care workers, were placed under medical surveillance.

Overall, this is the 17th imported H7N9 case confirmed in Hong Kong.

Mainland health authorities have reported 783 human cases of H7N9 bird flu since 2013 when the first major outbreak struck.

This month alone, mainland authorities reported two deaths among seven cases of H7N9 infection, according to state media.

World Health Organisation figures show that the virus has resulted in 322 deaths globally.

Dr Leung Chi-chiu, chairman of the Hong Kong Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases, said the elderly and those with chronic illnesses were especially vulnerable to the H7N9 strain.

“H7N9 is fatal – those who have chronic illnesses are likely to be unable to fight the infection as their organs are also failing,” Leung said.

Leung added that the mortality rate for the strain was about 30 to 40 per cent.

He explained that the H7N9 virus was harder to detect compared to the H5N1 strain.

“The H5N1 strain is easily detected as many chickens die as a result, but the H7N9 virus in chickens does not show any symptoms,” Leung said.

He added that the best prevention method at the moment is for the public to stay away from poultry farms.