A top mainland respiratory disease expert rejected the need for a ban on live poultry shipments to Hong Kong to prevent the spread of H7N9 yesterday after Guangdong confirmed its first human case of the bird flu strain last week.
Hours after Dr Zhong Nanshan, a fellow of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, spoke, Beijing last night confirmed the 45th death from the virus.
The patient infected in Guangdong - a 51-year-old poultry worker from the Huizhou, northeast of Hong Kong - was in stable condition yesterday after she was transferred on Saturday to the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Disease, headed by Zhong.
"There is not enough of a foundation to halt the chicken supply at this stage," Zhong said at a meeting in Guangzhou with experts from Hong Kong and Macau, after studying the latest patient's case.
His opinion was echoed by Hong Kong and Guangdong health officials.
The deadly strain of bird flu hit the Yangtze River Delta in February. Experts say the strain is more likely to eventually be transmitted between humans than other known bird-flu virus.
The disease has infected at least 134 people, killing 45.
The latest death, reported by the Beijing municipal health bureau, was of a 61-year-old woman from Langfan , Hebei . The woman was transferred to Chaoyang hospital in Beijing on July 18 after suffering from fever and shortness of breath for several days, the bureau said in a statement on its official Sino Weibo account.
She showed improvement earlier this month and at one point even tested negative for H7N9, but her situation worsened. She died late on Sunday.
During a visit to Beijing yesterday, Hong Kong's secretary for food and health, Dr Ko Wing-man, said Hong Kong's quick test for the flu virus in imported poultry at the border should be enough to stop infected birds from entering the city. The test takes just a few hours.
"All live poultry will be held at the Cheung Sha Wan Temporary Wholesale Poultry Market and await results of the tests before being sold," Ko said.
He said that no poultry farms supplying Hong Kong were located within 13 kilometres of where the 51-year-old infected in Guangdong lived and worked.
"Our strategy to minimise the possibility of human-to-human transmission lies in the early detection system," he said.
Zhong urged people to act quickly if they showed flu symptoms after coming in contact with poultry in affected areas.
"Our studies show that the best time to take these [anti-avian-flu] medicines is within 48 hours," he said. "If you take them within three days [of developing symptoms], there is still a high chance to prevent the case from turning severe. This is also why Guangdong authorities managed to avoid an outbreak in previous months."
Zhong said that the Huizhou patient was suffering from lung damage, with possible acute fibrosis, and a weakened heart.
The patient was also prescribed a new anti-bird-flu drug called Peramivir.
Her family are on different antiviral drugs.
"Peramivir is a new drug and has been rarely used around the world, so we are proceeding with extreme caution," Zhong said.