H7N9: Don’t let your guard down yet

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

The gov­ern­ment held an in­ter­de­part­men­tal meet­ing on Thurs­day to dis­cuss mea­sures to deal with the in­creased risk of avian in­fluenza in­fec­tion. The Cen­tre for Health Pro­tec­tion (CHP) said a record 364 peo­ple have been in­fected with H7N9 glob­ally dur­ing the peak flu sea­son so far, mostly on the main­land, and it is very con­cerned about the sit­u­a­tion. Be­cause Hong Kong im­ports more live poul­try from the main­land than from any other source, health au­thor­i­ties have sus­pended live chicken ship­ments from sev­eral main­land sup­pli­ers and over­seas sources this win­ter to pre­vent pos­si­ble spread of bird flu here.

This is the fifth wave of H7N9 in­fec­tions since the strain first ap­peared in 2013. CHP Con­troller Wong Ka-hing said on Thurs­day the rise in the num­bers in hu­man cases had al­ready sur­passed all the pre­vi­ous years, in­clud­ing the high­est num­ber in the se­cond wave. All strains of bird flu virus sur­vive longer in cooler tem­per­a­tures, which is why such in­fec­tions al­ways peak in win­ter. This means peo­ple who visit the main­land in the com­ing weeks should take all pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sures, par­tic­u­larly if their des­ti­na­tions have re­ported H7N9 in­fec­tion cases re­cently.

Peo­ple may as­sume Hong Kong is nor­mally too warm for the avian flu virus and this win­ter has been warmer than most in re­cent mem­ory. That may be true but it is not a rea­son to let our guard down, be­cause hu­man in­fec­tions have hap­pened here. Do not go to live poul­try mar­kets un­less you have to, and watch out for health-re­lated no­ti­fi­ca­tions in ad­di­tion to main­tain­ing all per­sonal hy­giene mea­sures such as thor­oughly clean­ing your hands with dis­in­fec­tant soap or gel af­ter vis­it­ing wet mar­kets and be­fore hav­ing meals in pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties.

It is best Hong Kong res­i­dents avoid go­ing to places that are on high alert right now. If you need to re­ceive visi­tors from those ar­eas at this time of year, make sure they are not run­ning a fever or show­ing other flu symp­toms. If they are, take them to the near­est hospi­tal as soon as pos­si­ble. Even if you are not go­ing to the high-alert re­gions in the near fu­ture, you can never be too care­ful about hy­giene. If you see a dead bird on the ground, don’t touch it, but alert the CHP im­me­di­ately if you can.

Vac­ci­na­tion is so far the most ef­fec­tive way to pre­vent vi­ral pan­demics, but de­vel­op­ing avian flu vac­cines takes time and there is no sure date for when we will get ef­fec­tive H7N9 vac­cines. That is why the gov­ern­ment and live poul­try sup­pli­ers need to reach a con­sen­sus on cen­tral slaugh­ter­ing sooner rather than later, in the best in­ter­ests of Hong Kong so­ci­ety.

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