Hong Kong Expert Worries About Recent Bird Flu Cases

By Lin Yi, Epoch Times
January 21, 2009 9:41 pm Last Updated: January 21, 2009 1:14 pm

HONG KONG—In two weeks, four people in China have been confirmed infected with H5N1 bird flu virus. An expert in Hong Kong worries about the possibility of an inapparent infection,* and the risk of human-to-human transmission becoming more likely.

Currently, three of the four persons have died from the virus. Professor Paul K. S. Chan from the Department of Microbiology of the Chinese University of Hong Kong believes the situation is really worrisome because the source of the virus is still not identified.  There is no apparent outbreak among the birds at the locations where the people were infected. It means the possibility of an inapparent infection.

“If we cannot identify which chicken or duck carries the virus, we would normally take precautions especially during close contact. It is really worrisome. Many experts want to identify whether the infection was caused by an inapparent infection (between humans) or transmission from infected poultry without symptoms, which could be the result of ongoing vaccinations. If that is the case, the vaccine should be improved or the method of applying the vaccine should be improved.” said Professor Chan in an Epoch Times interview.

Chan pointed out that the virus has never stopped mutating. Because its human-to-human transmission efficiency is still low, there has not been a large scale outbreak among humans. However, many experts are concerned that the efficiency is gradually increasing. “The mutation from difficult human-to-human transmission to rapid human-to-human transmission could take a very short time, but could be a slow process as well.” said Chan adding that it could happen within a few months in the worst-case scenario, but it is difficult to predict.

Chan emphasized that the virus could spread to very distant locations by birds, so isolated human infection cases are possible. “If an outbreak happened in one province, the virus could also be carried to other provinces by the birds. I believe such things could happen.”

*not apparent clinically

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