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ONE FLU OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST

A patient who ate “home-cooked chicken” triggers a Hong Kong bird flu alert

AP Photo/Vincent Yu
Health workers in full protective gear walk at a wholesale poultry market before culling poultry in January.
  • Adam Pasick
By Adam Pasick

Senior Editor

This article is more than 2 years old.

Nearly a year after Hong Kong’s last incident of the H7N9 bird flu, health authorities have raised the city’s alert level to “serious” after a patient was hospitalized for a severe case of the virus. Hong Kong health officials said the 68-year-old woman is in critical condition after returning from a trip to the Longgang district of Shenzhen in mainland China.

The AFP reported that she was not believed to have had any contact with live poultry—the most typical route of transmission—but that she ate “home-cooked chicken” with friends during her trip.

The H7N9 strain of bird flu was first spotted in mainland China in March, 2013, where it quickly killed about 100 people. The virus subsequently spread to Hong Kong, where it infected 10 people and killed three, prompting a cull of 20,000 chickens and a four-month ban on poultry imports from mainland China.

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization was notified of 11 H7N9 cases, including five fatalities, in mainland China. The virus usually results in severe pneumonia and breathing difficulties, and has a mortality rate of about 30%. Thus far, no cases of human-to-human transmission have been confirmed, although laboratory tests suggest that it is possible.

The first H7N9 patient of the winter prompted Hong Kong to raise its response level back to “serious,” one step short of the highest alert level, “emergency.” Hospitals will restrict visiting hours and require visitors to wear compulsory surgical masks, among other measures. Poultry imports have not been affected.

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