Hong Kong confirms first human case of bird flu since 2003

HONG KONG (AFP) – Hong Kong scrambled Thursday to contain any outbreak of bird flu, seeking to reassure the public after the teeming city recorded its first human case of the illness since 2003.

The government has 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.

But officials said there was little risk of person-to-person transmission, after a 59-year-old woman tested positive for Influenza A (H5), a variant of bird flu. She was in a serious condition in a hospital isolation ward.

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.

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