Hong Kong Flu Update

A ProMED-mail post
Date: Thu, 01 Jan 1998 09:08:19 -0800
From: CDPC-mail; James Chin
Source: South China Morning Post

The next 10 days or so will be crucial in the fight against the bird flu virus [influenzavirus A H5N1], government sources said yesterday. As the slaughter of more than 1.4 million birds was completed, the sources pledged quick action if the virus spread to other poultry. One official said they had formulated four scenarios after the first case of bird flu in May:

1. The first was for an isolated case;
2. The second envisaged a ''cluster of cases'' which was also quickly over;
3. The third was for a situation where there were hundreds of cases, but the outbreak was contained; and
4. The last, and worst, scenario was for the disease to become a world epidemic.

"If there is an outbreak here, it will spread around the world in one to two months," she said. "I believe we are now at the second scenario ... but the next 10 days or two weeks will be crucial."

Test results from 400 samples taken from poultry on Monday, during the first day of the mass cull, will be available next Tuesday. Initial results on pigeons showed that none had the virus, she said. "If no more new cases are found in the next two weeks, we can say the first cluster of cases is over." Work would then continue to trace the origin of the virus and its development. "At present, we will stick to our earlier assessment that the efficiency of the human-to-human transmission is weak," she said.

The Government had already formulated comprehensive plans, but had decided not to disclose details to avoid causing panic. Details would be given to Provisional Legislative Council members next week. It is understood [that] places which attracted large crowds would be closed if no vaccine was ready to battle a massive outbreak of bird flu. The contingency plan and the mass slaughter of 1.4 million poultry are expected to be part of a special H5N1 briefing by health and agriculture officials to Executive Councillors tomorrow.

Deputy Director of Health Dr. Paul Saw Thian-aun said the Government would decide this month whether to produce the vaccine, depending on factors such as the possibility of human-to-human transmission. But he said mass production would take at least five to six months to prepare.

Dr. Saw told Provisional Legislators yesterday that the contingency plan has been prepared to cope with a scenario in which bird flu developed into an epidemic, but no vaccine was available. "Under such a plan, we would have to depend on the use of amantadine in the treatment of cases," he said.

Meanwhile, the outbreak of the bird flu has provoked Thailand's Bangkok International Airport to impose checks on [Hong Kong] visitors. The mainland [China] will issue a notice over the next two days to stop Hong Kong visitors carrying poultry into China.

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