Jan 19, 2009 (CIDRAP News) – China's health ministry today reported three new human H5N1 avian influenza cases, one of them fatal and the other patients hospitalized in critical condition, according to a statement from the World Health Organization (WHO).
In the first case, a 27-year-old woman from Jinan City in Shandong province got sick on Jan 5, was hospitalized, and died on Jan 17, the WHO reported.
Public health officials are investigating the source of the woman's H5N1 infection, the WHO said. Shandong province is in northeastern China.
In the second case, a 2-year-old girl from Luliang City in Shanxi province began having symptoms on Jan 7, was hospitalized, and is in critical condition, the WHO reported.
Authorities are also exploring how the girl became infected, the WHO said. Shanxi province is in the north central part of the country.
The third patient, a 16-year-old boy from Huaihua City in Hunan province, became ill on Jan 8 and was hospitalized on Jan 16, where he is in critical condition, the WHO said.
An investigation into the source of the boy's illness found that he was exposed to sick and dead poultry, the WHO said. Hunan province is in south central China.
China's national laboratory confirmed all three of the cases, according to the WHO, which added that close contacts of the three cases are under medical observation, and all remain healthy so far.
The illnesses and death raise China's H5N1 case count to 34 and fatality total to 22, and these cases bring to four the number of cases in the country in as many weeks. On Jan 7 China's health ministry announced that a 19-year-old Beijing woman who got sick on Dec 24 and died from an H5N1 infection on Jan 5.
The WHO said in a press release today that it anticipates China will keep it updated on the new H5N1 cases and that the organization stands ready to provide China with technical assistance, if needed.
As more people eat chicken as part of Chinese New Year celebrations, the WHO in its statement urged people to observe routine safety precautions such as ensuring that poultry is well cooked and washing hands after contact with raw meat.
This year's Chinese New Year celebration, which lasts for 15 days, starts on Jan 26.
These latest H5N1 cases and fatality raise the world's WHO-confirmed H5N1 total to 397 cases and 249 deaths.
In related developments, China's agriculture ministry is intensifying its efforts to reduce the spread of H5N1 in poultry, according to a Bloomberg News report today. The country will strengthen poultry immunization against the virus, increase vaccine production, boost monitoring of poultry markets and other high-risk areas, and improve surveillance of poultry movements across country borders, the report said.
Meanwhile, York Chow, Hong Kong's secretary for food and health, called on China to release more epidemiological information about the recent human infections, Reuters reported today. He said that an apparent lack of information about recent poultry outbreaks in light of the recent human cases raises questions about a possible change in the virus.
However, about a week after the 19-year-old Beijing woman died, Chinese health officials said they had found no evidence that the virus has mutated to allow easier human-to-human transmission, according to previous media reports.
Chow also expressed concern about the possible role that asymptomatic H5N1-infected chickens might be playing in the spread of the virus, Reuters reported.
Jan 19 WHO statement