Hong Kong’s poultry import system is in limbo since live poultry imports from some Chinese farms have been suspended following the first human case of H7N9 in Hong Kong. The confirmation came with a 36-year-old Indonesian domestic worker who had just returned from a trip to Shenzhen, China. It is reported that while she was there she came into contact with live poultry and now, back in Hong Kong’s Queen Mary hospital, authorities say that her condition is critical.
Authorities are taking this confirmed H7N9 case in Hong Kong to be a sign that the virus is spreading. Hong Kong has raised the public health alarm and the region is on alert. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that there is no supporting evidence to date that the H7N9 virus can be transferred from one human to another but it is an “unusually dangerous virus.” The virus emerged earlier this year and according to a statement released by the WHO on November 6, a minimum of 139 human H7N9 infections have been reported and at least 45 out of that number were fatal. Taiwan had one confirmed case in April this year.
Hong Kong reported the H7N9 infection at a press conference held on December 2, marking the first human H7N9 case. It is believed that the infected woman travelled to Shenzhen in mainland China where she purchased a live chicken, which she slaughtered and ate. Hong kong has now released a warning that despite there being no evidence that this particular strain of bird can be transferred between humans, there is a moderate risk that a new virus could cause serious health implications.
Secretary for Hong Kong’s food and health safety, Dr. Ko Wing-Man, has said that four people that were in close proximity with the 36-year-old patient are now showing symptoms that resemble flu and are under close supervision. The WHO has said that the H7N9 strain of bird flu usually stays among poultry and other birds and that human infection has not been seen until more recently. The organisation has also said that the transmission between humans needs to be examined.
Hong Kong has a relatively small land mass and has 6,620 people living on each kilometre, making it a challenge to be a major food source for itself. According to USDA data, 95 percent of Hong Kong’s food is imported and this heavy reliance on imports is a big reason for the Hong Kong to be in limbo as the import systems becomes stricter due to the confirmed bird flu case. Although, the USA is Hong Kong’s foremost importers, China rakes in second bringing in 17 percent of the country’s imports- including most of Hong Kong’s poultry.
The city knows what it is like to be at the hands of a deadly virus, especially after the city suffered during the SARS outbreak in 2003, which left almost 300 people dead and shook up the business world. The city has displayed extreme actions in the past in an effort to curb such outbreaks. After 18 people were identified as infected with the H5N1 strain during 1997, all of the regions chickens were slaughtered- over 1.5 million birds of varying species.
The city has not been witness to another case of that same strain since they employed the drastic steps, and may look at taking similar action if the need arises with the H7N9 strain. Statements surrounding the curbing of the bird flu virus that is threatening the city have yet to be released and for now Hong Kong has suspended poultry imports from some mainland Chinese farms.