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18 Feb 2014

More than 60 people have died and at least 300 have been infected in the latest outbreak of avian influenza to hit China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

The World Health Organisation is closely monitoring developments in north Asia, with the number of confirmed cases of H7N9 infection growing daily.

In latest developments, a 61-year-old man from Hangzhou City in China’s Zheijiang Province was reported by local authorities to have died several days after being admitted to hospital in a critical condition, while the WHO has confirmed a woman, 81, from Shenzen in Guangdong Province died on 7 February.

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Baggoley said that although there was as yet no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus, travellers to China and Hong Kong are warned to be alert.

In particular, people have been advised to avoid live bird or poultry markets and farms, to only eat food (including eggs) that is fully cooked, and to avoid food from street vendors.

The latest outbreak of the virus has come in two waves. The first appeared in the northern spring last year, during which 136 people were infected. After a lull during summer, the number of cases accelerated as China moved into winter, and at least an additional 202 people have contracted the disease in this latest phase of the outbreak, which reports indicating it has claimed as many as 72 lives since last April.

Most cases reported by the WHO involve people with a history of exposure to live poultry, and the Organisation said there was no indication at this stage that it was being spread internationally by either people or animals.

However, it warned further cases are likely to be confirmed in China and neighbouring areas because of the increase in trade in poultry associated with celebrations of Chinese New Year.

The WHO said there was no need for airport screening or travel restrictions at this time, but it warned that anyone who developed severe acute respiratory symptoms soon after returning from an area where cases had been diagnosed should be tested for the disease.

It encourage countries to “continue strengthening influenza surveillance, including surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections”.

Adrian Rollins

Published: 18 Feb 2014