Suspected H7N9 flu cases cleared of infection: CDC

By Alison Hsiao and Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporters

Sat, Apr 06, 2013 - Page 1

All of the eight suspected H7N9 cases in Taiwan have been cleared of infection, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said yesterday.

It added that it intends to send staff to China to gain a better understanding of the possibility of human-to-human transmissions of the H7N9 avian flu virus.

Of the eight suspected H7N9 cases that have been reported in Taiwan, two were visitors from China’s Henan and Jiangsu provinces, with no symptoms of infection at the time of entry into Taiwan, CDC Deputy Director-General Chou Jih-haw (周志浩) said.

“The rest of the suspected cases were all Taiwanese. Two were found to be infected by the H1N1 influenza virus,” Chou said.

The eight suspected cases have all been cleared of infection, according to the latest report by the Central Epidemic Disease Surveillance Command Center.

The center, which is a newly established H7N9 epidemic prevention and control center, said that as of yesterday morning, there were no reports of fever among visitors from China’s affected areas — Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Anhui — at the ports of entry.

CDC Director-General Chang Feng-yee (張峰義), commander-in-chief of the command center, said the CDC has been trying to contact the Chinese authorities and is “in principle” planning to dispatch personnel to China to obtain first-hand information about the virus.

Chang declined to give further details.

When asked about the Cross-Strait Cooperation Agreement on Medicine and Public Health Affairs, which states that “both parties agree to notify each other of epidemic information of communicable diseases that may constitute or have constituted serious emergent public health events at the earliest possible time” and whether the agreement has helped cross-strait communication concerning the H7N9 flu and the CDC’s dispatch plan, Chang said: “It still requires the consent of the Chinese government to send our envoys over, just as they would need our permission if they were sending people to Taiwan.”

“We are also now practicing strict infection control and surveillance measures, raising vigilance in three major areas: ports of entry, families and communities and hospitals,” he said.

“We require every person suspected of infection, regardless of the severity of the symptoms, to be hospitalized until cleared of infection. This can reduce the possibility of the spread of the virus, and those infected with the disease can receive early treatment,” he added.

Saying that the H7N9 bird flu would come to Taiwan “sooner or later” given the geographical proximity of and the frequent visits between Taiwan and China, Chang added that “as long as we exercise the highest level of vigilance, we will be able to contain and control it.”

Separately yesterday, the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine (BAPHIQ) said it is cooperating with health authorities to enforce stricter inspection and monitoring measures at national borders, adding that it has established an emergency control unit.

The enhanced measures at ports and airports include halting the import of poultry products from China, Hong Kong and Macau, and asking the Coast Guard Administration to help enforce stricter inspections to prevent smuggled products, the bureau said.

Domestic inspections of poultry samples have also been increased, it said, adding that as of the end of last month, samples have been collected from 574 poultry and pet bird sites and 2,213 bird dropping samples from migratory birds have been examined, with no H7N9 avian influenza virus discovered so far.

The bureau said it has also instructed local departments to enforce stricter inspections at poultry farms, report any abnormal situations immediately and help the farms to conduct disinfection operations.

On reports that the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture said pigeon samples from Shanghai were found to contain the H7N9 avian influenza virus, BAPHIQ deputy head Huang Kuo-ching (黃國青) said pigeons and pet birds in Taiwan have always been monitored for avian influenza and so far H7N9 avian influenza has not been found in their droppings.

However, if the H7N9 avian influenza continues to spread and causes possible infections in Taiwan, then pigeon races may be canceled, he added.

Meanwhile, Hualien Hospital said it would hold a flu drill next week given the increasing number of confirmed human cases of the H7N9 avian flu strain in China and since the county where the hospital is located is a popular destination for Chinese tourists.

The drill will be modeled on the measures taken during a SARS outbreak in Taiwan in 2003, focusing on hospital entry and exit arrangements, fever screening, quarantine and treatment, said the hospital, which offers medical tourism services. The hospital is popular among Chinese visitors seeking such services.

Additional reporting by CNA