It would not be wise to arbitrarily apply all the measures that were adopted to deal with the 2003 SARS outbreak, because doing so could spread needless fear among the public.
Among the cases of humans infected by H7N9 in China, many do not seem to have had histories of close contact with poultry or other birds.
There have been many cases in the provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang, but few in the north of China. These figures correlate closely with the fact that there have been more positive samples of H7N9 detected in poultry and the environment in Jiangsu and Zhejiang than in China’s northern provinces.
This suggests that the possibility of the virus infecting humans from the environment cannot be ruled out.
If indigenous cases of the H7N9 infection occur in Taiwan, it will be necessary to inspect and disinfect the areas in question, something Taiwan does not have a very good track record of doing.
The type of environmental disinfection that may be necessary in this case may be a bit different from the kind of disinfection that has been done in response to previous outbreaks of contagious diseases among poultry, because while birds have not died, people are still living in the environment.
A key point for the government to consider is how to choose disinfectants that are non-toxic, while still being effective.
Like swallows in spring, when new cases of illness appear, they offer us new information and ideas.
That does not mean that we should put old wine in a new bottle by doing exactly as we have in the past.
We need to take the WHO’s most recent recommendations as the blueprint for drawing up a comprehensive plan.
Let us bear in mind that Hong Kong handled its 2009 outbreak of A(H1N1) novel influenza entirely in accordance with the WHO’s recommendations.
Wang Jen-hsien is president of the Taiwan Counter Contagious Diseases Society.
Translated by Julian Clegg