The condition of a Taiwanese businessman who contracted the H7N9 avian influenza virus in China has improved to the point where he has been taken off his ventilator, and may soon be moved to a normal ward, National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH) said on Tuesday.
“The patient has been taken off a ventilator, is no longer testing positive for the virus and has been taken off the anti-flu drug Tamiflu,” NTUH deputy superintendent Chang Shan-chwen (張上淳) said.
“If all goes well, the patient can be transferred to a normal ward in the next couple of days for continued treatment and recuperation,” Chang added.
The 53-year-old man, identified only by his surname, Lee (李), has been receiving intensive treatment in a negative pressure quarantine ward since April 20 after testing positive for the H7N9 virus following his return to Taiwan on April 9.
At the most serious stage of his illness, Lee was put on a ventilator and given extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) therapy. He was taken off the ECMO, a machine that functions as an artificial lung, on Thursday last week.
“While the patient is clearly conscious and his health is improving steadily, he nevertheless remains weak and still suffers shortness of breath,” Chang said at a media briefing, with the consent of the patient’s family.
“It is still not clear when Lee can be discharged,” he added.
The H7N9 strain of bird flu had not been found in humans until cases were reported in China in April.
Scientists in China and other countries said the virus has jumped from birds, most probably chickens, to humans.
The virus has so far infected at least 129 people in China and killed 31 of them, according to the latest data from China’s health authorities and the WHO. To date, Taiwan is the only place outside China that has reported a case of H7N9.
Chang said that a sample of the virus obtained from Lee is likely to be used for virological study to analyze its genetic makeup, clinical symptoms and effectiveness of drug treatments.
A report from the Reuters news agency on Tuesday said that the WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have prepared samples of the virus to give to manufacturers for vaccine production.
New cell-culture technology developed by Novartis AG has reduced the production timeline for vaccines to a matter of weeks, although human safety trials will still require several months, the report said.
Major flu vaccine manufacturers include Sanofi SA, GlaxoSmithKline PLC, Novartis, Australia’s CSL Ltd, Baxter International Inc and AstraZeneca PLC, the report said.
The two main drugs that appear to be effective against H7N9 are Roche Holding AG’s Tamiflu and GlaxoSmithKline’s Relenza, the report added.