Avian Influenza Breakouts in Southern China during the Winter Season

Contributed by Carol Huang

On January 14th, 2016, the Health and Family Planning Commission of Guangdong Province, China, has reported an additional two human cases of avian influenza A (H7N9). Human infection with H7N9 flu virus, however, causes serious respiratory symptoms and can lead to death – the most common symptom is severe pneumonia. Other symptoms include fever, cough that produces sputum, wheeze (whistling sound during breathing, a sign of breathing problems), headache, myalgia (muscle pain/aches), and general malaise. The Mainland health authorities have reported a total of 680 human cases of avian influenza A (H7N9) since 2013.

On Jan. 13th, 2016, an H5N1 avian influenza case was reported in Sichuan province, China. The 42-year-old patient presented with fever and other symptoms in late December and was hospitalized and is currently in extreme critical condition. Almost all cases of H5N1 infection in people have been associated with close contact with infected live or dead birds, or H5N1-contaminated environments. The virus does not infect humans easily, and spread from person to person appears to be unusual. There is no evidence that the disease can be spread to people through properly prepared and thoroughly cooked food.

On January 8th, 2016, the Health and Family Planning Commission of Guangdong Province has reported a 3rd case of H5N6 avian influenza case in Shenzhen City and Zhaoqing City involving a 25-year-old Shenzhen man. The Mainland health authorities have reported a total of seven human cases of avian influenza A (H5N6) since 2014.

Avian influenza is caused by those influenza viruses that mainly affect birds and poultry, such as chickens or ducks. Clinical presentation of avian influenza in humans includes eye infection (conjunctivitis), flu-like symptoms (e.g. fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches) or severe respiratory illness (e.g. chest infection). The incubation period ranges from 7 to 10 days. The more virulent forms can result in respiratory failure, multi-organ failure and even death. People primarily become infected with avian influenza through close contact with infected birds and poultry (live or dead) or their droppings. Human-to-human transmission is inefficient.

Poultry, especially chicken is an important dish on the table during the Lunar New Year season in Asian countries, who celebrate Lunar New Year. It is considered to bring luck to people. For preparation of big market needs, farmers would increase poultry production in the early winter season. Unfortunately, most breakouts occur in winter season.

To be alert, do not visit poultry markets, farms, or have contact with poultry in infected regions.

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