Hong Kong's death toll from the H7N9 strain of bird flu rose to three yesterday when the virus claimed the life a 75-year-old man who recently spent a week living near a poultry market in Shenzhen.
The fatality came as it was confirmed by mainland officials that a family of three - a father, mother and daughter - in Xiaoshan , Zhejiang province, had contracted the deadly virus. The 49-year-old father has died, the daughter, 23, is seriously ill and the mother is in a stable condition, provincial health officials said.
It also follows the cull of 20,000 chickens at the Cheung Sha Wan wholesale market after a sample batch tested positive for the virus, prompting a city-wide ban on the sale of live chickens.
Xinhua said mainland experts were not certain if human-to-human transmission was involved in the family contracting the virus because all three had been in close contact with poultry.
The total number of confirmed cases on the mainland this month had risen to at least 110 by Tuesday; 20 people have died.
There have been four cases in Hong Kong; three of the victims have died. The first, Indonesian domestic helper Tri Mawarti, was released from Tuen Mun Hospital earlier this month after receiving treatment.
The latest Hong Kong H7N9 victim suffered from unrelated long-term illnesses including hypertension and diabetes. Earlier this month, he had spent seven days in the Baoan district of Shenzhen living close to poultry stalls. He returned to Hong Kong on January 26 with mild flu symptoms but without a fever, which allowed him to avoid health detection at the border, said Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan of the Centre of Health Protection.
He was admitted to Tuen Mun Hospital with a fever and severe pneumonia on Tuesday and died yesterday morning. Four members of his immediate family - his wife, two daughters and son - none of whom are displaying symptoms of the H7N9, have been isolated in Princess Margaret Hospital.
Four patients who were in the same ward as he was in Tuen Mun Hospital have been placed under medical surveillance.
On the mainland, the
Legal Evening News, citing an official at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said the parents in the family infected with H7N9 sold vegetables in a wet market before falling ill. The daughter also briefly helped at the market, making it possible they were exposed to poultry. Investigations are continuing, officials said.
Meanwhile, Zhang Zhongqiu, the agriculture ministry's veterinary bureau chief, said yesterday there was insufficient evidence to prove so far that people contracted the H7N9 virus directly from poultry.
However, Zhang acknowledged the need to step up monitoring of poultry markets and said local governments could decide on their own whether they need to shut these markets temporarily or permanently.
The National Health and Family Planning Commission said earlier this week that it could not rule out the possibility of "limited" human-to-human infections of H7N9, but there was no evidence of sustained transmission yet.
Meanwhile, police are cracking down on what Xinhua described as widespread rumour-mongering about the disease. Police in Shenyang , the capital city of Liaoning province, detained one man on Monday for spreading a rumour that the virus is contained in pickled chicken feet, a popular snack for many, on social media.