Feb 11, 2013 (CIDRAP News) – China's health ministry has confirmed H5N1 avian influenza infections in two residents of Guizhou province, a 21-year-old woman and a 31-year-old man, Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said yesterday.
The CHP said the two adults, both from the city of Guiyang, the province's capital, are in critical condition and that they have no epidemiologic links. It also said neither the woman nor the man had an obvious history of exposure to poultry.
If the World Health Organization (WHO) confirms the two cases, they will push China's H5N1 infection total to 45, of which 28 were fatal.
Guizhou province is in southwestern China. Its capital is in the center of the province and has a population of more than 4 million.
News of the two H5N1 cases comes at the beginning of China's Lunar New Year celebrations, a time when millions of people are traveling throughout the country, which could raise the risk of infectious diseases as people crowd trains, buses, and transportation terminals.
If investigators confirm that the two patients had no contact with poultry or poultry environments, the cases would fit a recent pattern of Chinese H5N1 infections without exposure to poultry. Some global health officials have said that such illnesses could suggest a surveillance gap for H5N1 in poultry or problems with the country's poultry vaccination program.
Several H5N1 strains are circulating in China, and ducks can excrete the virus without showing symptoms or showing only mild ones.
Xinhua, China's state news agency, published a report citing health authorities who said the woman got sick on Feb 2 and the man started having symptoms on Feb 3, Reuters reported yesterday. The report also said the patients' close contacts were being monitored, but so far none were sick.
A spokesman for the CHP said the department is in close contact with China's health ministry. "We will heighten our vigilance and continue to maintain stringent port health measures in connection with this development," the spokesman said in the statement.
China's new cases, if confirmed by the WHO, would raise the global H5N1 total to 618 illnesses, including 365 deaths.
Feb 10 Reuters story
Feb 10 CHP statement
Feb 1 WHO global H5N1 case count