Remain vigilant against pandemic
Health scares have a bad habit of repeating themselves, because H7N9 has raised its ugly head again!
Macao’s health authority took prompt action on Wednesday after the city confirmed on Tuesday its first human infection with avian flu. The sale of live chickens will be banned for the next three days in the city, and plans are afoot to cull 10,000 birds in the wholesale market where a 58-year-old poultry stall owner was diagnosed with the H7N9 virus when two samples from a batch of chickens he had handled tested positive.
Macao’s health authority has every reason to take a single case of H7N9 virus infection seriously. And the precautionary measures taken so far are warranted. The H7N9 virus has been identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an “unusually dangerous virus” for humans, with a mortality rate of as high as 30 percent. And a pandemic outbreak is more likely in the winter season when avian flu tends to strike.
It was no less than our own former director of health Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, now the director-general of the WHO, who warned: “After all it really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic.” So let’s be worried — moderately, for now.
Because of the city’s proximity to Hong Kong, the situation in Macao must be taken seriously here — not to mention that there have been a number of H7N9 infection cases on the mainland too. The risk factor is further increased after some bird feces tested positive for H5N6 recently in the wetland in the New Territories. All these factors taken together call for enhanced public vigilance in observing government guidelines on avoidance of wet markets and contact with birds anywhere, as well as the observance of stricter personal hygiene practice.
In response, while there is no need for panic, we need to mobilize our entire medical establishment, including those in private practice, our schools, and the media to be vigilant in detecting any signs of bird flu and to encourage all in adopting commonsense hygiene practice as a defense against pandemic.
More importantly, as bird flu viruses are more active in the winter months, some proactive measures are warranted. The health authority should be commended for launching the timely Government Vaccination Programme (GVP), which has provided an expanded free seasonal influenza vaccination to eligible persons since Nov 3.