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One case of “bird flu” confirmed in Hong Kong – investigation ongoing

Today, results from two laboratories have confirmed the presence of an avian influenza virus in a single child in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China (Hong Kong SAR)" . Tests of two samples from this single patient have identified the virus as the strain of influenza A(H5N1), sometimes known as “bird flu.”

A(H5N1) was first seen in humans in 1997 when an outbreak of 18 cases caused six deaths in Hong Kong SAR. Until then, this virus was seen only in birds including chickens and ducks. A(H5N1) is not dangerous for ducks, but causes high mortality in chickens. Following confirmation of the initial case, in a two-year-old child in August 1997, an investigation was launched and surveillance was increased. In December 1997, all chickens, which were thought to be the source of this outbreak of influenza in humans, were slaughtered in Hong Kong SAR. No further cases of this disease was reported in humans. Since then, authorities have maintained intensive surveillance of influenza in human and birds in Hong Kong SAR.

In the current event, a nine-year-old boy became ill on 9 February and was admitted to a Hong Kong SAR hospital on 12 February. He was treated, has recovered and is in stable condition. Other members of his family with similar symptoms, including the child’s sister and father, have died. The boy’s mother was ill but has recovered.

The boy travelled to Fujian Province (China) in January with his mother and his two sisters. One of his sisters, age eight, became ill in Fujian on 28 January and died in a local hospital on 4 February. The father joined the family on 31 January and became ill on 7 February. He returned to Hong Kong SAR on 10 February and was admitted to hospital the following day. He died in Hong Kong SAR on 16 February.

It is not yet known whether the other family members who fell ill were also infected with A(H5N1). A medical and epidemiological investigation is ongoing in Hong Kong SAR to determine the cause of those illnesses and deaths, and results should be available in the next few days. Investigations are also ongoing to determine the source of the infection.

The World Health Organization is collaborating closely with health authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong SAR. The WHO Global Influenza Surveillance network has been alerted and WHO has offered to provide support if required.

For more information contact:

Mr Iain Simpson
Telephone: +41 22 791 3215
Mobile phone: +41 79 475 5534

Mr Dick Thompson
Telephone: +41 22 791 2684
Mobile phone: +41 79 475 5475