Dreaded H7N9 Bird Flu Strain Reaches Hong Kong, At Least One Confirmed Infected

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | December 3, 2013 4:48 PM EST

The dreaded H7N9 bird flu strain has reached Hong Kong. On Monday, health officials confirmed and reported the country's first patient to succumb to the infection.

The patient, a 36-year-old Indonesian domestic helper, went to visit the city of Shenzhen in China in November. She reportedly had contact with poultry in ChinaThe unidentified Indonesian domestic worker fell ill on Nov 21 and was hospitalized six days later.

Health officials had immediately issued a public health notice all across Hong Kong.

Ko Wing-man, health secretary, said the government has raised its influenza pandemic response level to "serious" from "alert."

Hospitals have been ordered to beef up infection controls as well as limit respective visiting hours.

"We might not expect that this case is the only infection in Shenzhen," Ben Cowling, associate professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong's School of Public Health, was quoted by Businessweek.

Government officials are likewise searching for a friend of the domestic worker who reportedly traveled with her to Shenzhen.

Moreover, Hong Kong has suspended the imports of live poultry from three Shenzhen farms.

"Respiratory viruses do their own thing; they don't respect boundaries," Ian Mackay, an associate professor of clinical virology at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, told Businessweek. "It does seems that it's continuing to add to provinces and regions, rather than reappear in all the old places it started in back in February and March."

First identified in April, the dreaded H7N9 bird flu strain has infected 139 people and killed 45 in China and Taiwan.

The dreaded H7N9 bird flu strain has been described by the World Health Organization described as "one of the most lethal influenza viruses seen so far."

In May 2013, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention researchers said the bird flu strain H7N9 is a combination of at least four deadly flu strains. A new type of "quadruple reassortant" virus, the researchers said it is highly probable that one of those genes came from migratory birds from East Asia and then later transmitted to ducks in the Yangtze River Delta region, where the epidemic first broke out, during migration.

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