Re­main vig­i­lant against pan­demic

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COM­MENT -

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.

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