Hong Kong bird flu case sparks alert22nd November 2010
Health authorities in Hong Kong have confirmed the first human case of avian influenza since 2003.
The patient, a 59-year-old woman, became ill with the H5N1 avian influenza virus shortly after returning from a visit to mainland China.
But officials say they cannot yet tell whether she contracted the disease in China or in the autonomous Chinese territory of Hong Kong.
The health department has raised the alert level for the disease to 'serious', however. This level means that there exists a risk of catching bird flu.
Six people died during the last avian influenza outbreak in the former British colony seven years ago.
Food and health secretary York Chow said investigations were currently focusing on poultry as the possible source of the infection.
Chow said there was still no sign that the virus has been spread between humans.
He said health officials would be testing anyone who had come into contact with the woman when she became ill, and also since her return from mainland China.
He said that while mainland China was the most likely source of the infection, Hong Kong could still not be ruled out.
The woman is believed to have visited Shanghai, Hangzhou and Nanjing on a recent trip with her husband and daughter.
Hong Kong officials will meet later in the week to discuss possible further prevention and safety measures.
In 1997, the authorities launched a cull of every chicken in the territory, slaughtering millions of poultry after H5N1 crossed the species barrier, sickening humans for the first time.
Since the outbreak of 2003, there have been more than 500 cases of avian influenza around the world, 302 of them fatal.
Hong Kong's neighbours were quick to respond to the news.
Singapore's Health Ministry confirmed the city-state had so far seen no cases of bird flu.
It reminded the public to maintain good personal hygiene, however, and advised anyone with flu-like symptoms to see a doctor, and avoid public places to avoid the risk of transmitting the infection.
Travellers to areas affected by bird flu are advised to avoid direct contact with poultry and birds, with raw or undercooked poultry, or eggs.
In Hong Kong, Chow said the risk of avian flu in Hong Kong was not significantly higher than before, but that hospitals were now operating at a serious response level under the government's pandemic preparedness plan.
Under the alert, hospital visitors must don surgical masks, and keep to a much tighter visiting schedule.
All severe pneumonia cases are also being tested for bird flu.
Meanwhile, coastguards in the Philippines will be checking all international ships entering the country, whether carrying passengers or cargo.
Thermal scanners will be installed in all ports in the Philippines.
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