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Hong Kong confirms first human bird flu case since 2003

Hong Kong scrambled Thursday to contain any outbreak of bird flu but vied to reassure the public after the teeming city recorded its first human case of the illness since 2003.

The government raised its avian influenza alert level to "serious", meaning there is a "high risk" of people contracting the potentially fatal disease, a spokesman for the Department of Health told AFP.

Hong Kong recorded its last human case of bird flu in 2003, and had the world's first major outbreak among humans in 1997, when six people died of a mutation of the virus, which is normally confined to poultry.

Millions of poultry were culled in the 1997 outbreak, which previewed the full-blown panic that struck Hong Kong when the deadly respiratory disease SARS emerged in 2003, killing about 300 people.

Public anxiety returned to the city of seven million people last year with an outbreak of swine flu that has so far claimed about 80 lives.

The 59-year-old woman tested positive for Influenza A (H5), a variant of bird flu, after she was first diagnosed with pneumonia, health officials said. She was listed in a serious condition in a hospital isolation ward.

The woman had recently visited the mainland Chinese cities of Nanjing, Shanghai and Hangzhou, but it was too early to say where or how she contracted the disease, officials said.

Hong Kong health chief York Chow tried to downplay fears of a bird flu outbreak in the densely populated city.

"In general, we think that the risk of avian influenza (spreading) in Hong Kong is not significantly higher than before," he told reporters.

Nevertheless, Chow said the government had stepped up poultry inspections at wholesale markets and enhanced infection controls at public hospitals and clinics.

Visits to isolation wards in public hospitals have been banned, except on compassionate grounds, he said. All visitors are required to put on masks and wash hands before entering public hospitals.

Chow said there was no sign so far of human-to-human transmission in the case.
 
 

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