A Shenzhen bus driver has died of bird flu - the first fatal case of the H5N1 virus in China in 18 months - prompting Hong Kong authorities to step up their vigilance.
The man, surnamed Chen and aged 39, died of multiple organ failure yesterday after a week in hospital.
He Jianfeng, an official with the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Guangdong, told The Southern Metropolis News it was investigating whether Chen, who lived in the Shajing area of Baoan district, had contracted the deadly virus through migratory birds or their droppings during his regular morning jogs at a wetland park, Waterlands Resort.
'We discovered that the victim had taken five days' leave before he fell sick. He twisted his leg and did not go to work. He went jogging every morning, in an area where there are many migratory birds.'
The source of his infection had not been confirmed, He said. There was no sign the virus had mutated.
Ma Hanwu, deputy director of the Shenzhen Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said the strain of the virus was quite virulent, judging by Chen's acute symptoms, but may also have to do with 'the patient's own health condition'.
Chen had had no direct contact with poultry - often the source of bird flu outbreaks - and had not travelled in the past month.
Chen's H5N1 infection was confirmed on Friday, the Shenzhen CDC said. He developed a fever on December 21, but was only admitted to Shajing People's hospital on Christmas Day. He was transferred to intensive care the next day.
Chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said the Hong Kong government was exchanging information with the Shenzhen health authorities. 'We carried out follow-up action on Friday, asking doctors to be on the alert,' Tsang said.
Marion Lai Chan Chi-kuen, Hong Kong's permanent secretary for food and health, said the government would step up inspection of mainland chilled-chicken imports.
Dr Lo Wing-lok, an infectious-diseases specialist, said there had been no mutation of the H5N1 strain reported recently. (Mutation could make the disease more deadly or easily transmissible.)
He said it was unlikely Chen had spread the disease to bus passengers, since human-to-human transmission is exceptionally rare.
Lo said the government would need to carry out more detailed checks before resuming chicken imports from the mainland.
Microbiology professor Ho Pak-leung said wetland park visitors were at low risk of catching bird flu provided they avoided contact with wild birds or their droppings. But he advised Hong Kong people to avoid wet markets when travelling on the mainland.
Between 2003 and November 2011, China reported 40 human bird flu infections to the World Health Organisation, 26 of them fatal. Since 1997, the virus has killed 343 people worldwide - including seven in Hong Kong.