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HSE chiefs on alert for bird flu epidemic

HEALTH authorities here are preparing for a potential outbreak of the new Avian flu here.

The new strain of the disease that emerged in China over the past month is one of the "most lethal" flu viruses so far.

Altogether 27 people have died out of the 128 cases of the infection in patients in China reported to the World Health Organisation.

Officials are concerned because it can transfer more easily from birds to humans than the one that caused deaths a decade ago.

Farms

Scientists and health officers are keeping close tabs for evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission and detection of avian influenza A(H7N9) in bird populations in Europe.

The HSE says there is currently no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the virus which has been contracted on chicken farms in China.

The earlier bird flu strain, H5N1, is known to kill up to 60 of every 100 people it infects.

There are no known cases of the disease in any country outside China at this time.

However, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has urged member countries to prepare for the possibility of this strain of avian flu spreading to other countries.

"Individual imported human cases to Europe cannot be ruled out and countries need to prepare for detecting and diagnosing such cases," the centre said.

According to the centre: "The most likely scenario is that the influenza A(H7N9) virus is spreading undetected in poultry populations and occasionally infecting humans who have close contact with poultry or poultry products."

The main symptoms of the infection are severe pneumonia with fever, cough and shortness of breath.

It is believed that poultry workers moving to and from wet markets and farms may be responsible for the spread of the deadly virus in China.

For anyone considering travelling to China, the World Health Organisation has issued guidelines which include advising people to avoid live bird and animal markets – so called "wet-markets" – in both China and other countries in Asia.

Feathers

Visitors are also advised to avoid direct contact with bird and animal droppings, untreated bird feathers and other animal and bird waste. They should also wash their hands and use alcohol-based hand rubs.

Last week three new fatal cases were confirmed to the WHO.

The latest people to contract the flu are a 58-year-old man from Fujian province, a 69-year-old man from Hunan province and a 55-year-old man in central China.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent the A(H7N9) avian flu infection.

hnews@herald.ie


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