The WHO said yesterday there was no evidence of a bird flu epidemic in China after a fifth person died of the disease this month, but urged caution over the Lunar New Year holiday.
An 18-year-old man succumbed to the H5N1 strain of the virus on Monday, bringing to five the number of fatalities from the disease so far this year in China, compared with just three in the whole of last year.
The number of cases has sparked fears of an epidemic, particularly during this week’s Lunar New Year, as hundreds of millions of families across China reunite around huge feasts that include poultry.
Peter Cordingley, WHO spokesman for the Western Pacific Region, said there was no need for undue alarm.
“What we are seeing is so far within our expectations and broadly matches previous years,” he told reporters. “There is no evidence of an epidemic. Also, the China cases are geographically scattered and sporadic, with no sign of any connection between them.”
Cordingley urged caution during the biggest holiday of the year in China, saying the mass movement of people and poultry brought a heightened risk of humans mingling with chickens.
“[This] is not a situation we are comfortable with, and the increase in consumption of chicken meat presents dangers of people unknowingly handling infected meat,” he said. “Members of the public should take every precaution when preparing chicken meat for the table.”
Health authorities in Hunan ended a week-long quarantine of 157 people who had close contact with the toddler and the teenage boy who died in the province, saying none had developed any flu-like symptoms, Xinhua said yesterday.
So far, 25 people have died from avian influenza in China since the disease re-emerged in 2003, WHO figures show.
Hong Kong yesterday issued a terrotory-wide health alert after China reported the latest H5N1 bird flu human casualty.
Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection responded to the latest death by issuing a health alert yesterday warning people to avoid direct contact with poultry and follow hygiene rules.
It also advised people to consult doctors immediately if they developed fever or flu-like illnesses after traveling to China or other affected areas.
Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong people are spending this week’s Lunar New Year holiday with relatives in mainland China.
Hong Kong saw the first modern outbreak of bird flu to infect humans in 1997 when six people died and eight others fell ill from the H5N1 virus. It has since carried out two massive culls when bird flu was detected in dead poultry.