After nine cases of avian influenza A (H7N9), or bird flu, were reported in mainland China since last fall, two new cases of the A(H5N6) bird flu virus have now been identified in the country, resulting in one death so far.
The first case was a 26-year-old woman from Shenzhen City, in Guangdong, the coastal province in Southeast China immediately north of Hong Kong. She had been exposed to live poultry and came down with symptoms on Dec. 24. She was admitted to a hospital three days later and then died on Dec. 30, at which point the case was reported to the World Health Organization.
The second case, reported to WHO on Jan. 2, is a 40-year-old woman in Zhaoqing, Guangdong. She became ill on Dec. 22 and was sent to a hospital on Dec. 28, where she is isolated and in critical condition.
Her history of exposure to live poultry is unknown, reported state-owned China News Service, which also reported that local officials inspected the poultry market and sellers and punished anyone not complying with sanitation and safety rules.
The Taiwan Centers for Disease Control issued tourism alerts for Zhejiang, Guangdong, Anhui, Hunan, and Shanghai.
Hong Kong health officials said they will work closely with WHO and related sanitation departments to monitor the newest development. Disease prevention and control measures have been put in place at ports; thermal-imaging cameras will be used to examine people entering Hong Kong, and anyone suspected of abnormal body temperature will be rushed to a hospital.
The first reported case of H5N6 virus in humans was found in China in May 2014. A 49-year-old man with a poultry farm in Sichuan Province died from severe pneumonia caused by the virus. WHO said he was likely infected by sick birds on his farm.
Some strains of avian influenza can infect humans, usually in cases where they were exposed to infected birds. While some infections are fatal, many are mild and even subclinical in humans, says WHO.
Patients who are infected can show symptoms of fever, cough, sore throat, eye infections, and in worse cases, pneumonia, and respiratory diseases, and other severe complications. To most people the risk of contracting bird flu is very low, and it won’t occur if poultry and eggs are properly handled.
Still, authorities advise anyone visiting mainland China to keep good sanitation habits and avoid poultry farms, markets, and anywhere poultry may be slaughtered. Eggs and poultry products should be well-cooked before eating.