Hong Kong has confirmed the first human case of the H7N9 bird flu since the strain was first reported in China earlier this year, indicating the virus could be spreading farther than the mainland.
Southern China’s financial Health Secretary Ko Wing-man said late Monday, a 36-year-old Indonesian maid is in the hospital in Hong Kong, in critical condition.
Ko said that woman often traveled to Shenzhen to buy, slaughter, and eat chicken. She visited the city last month, fell ill on November 21, and was hospitalized six days later.
Officials say that some people close to the Hong Kong woman, including the family she works for, are showing minor respiratory problems after coming into contact with her while sick.
Hong Kong has raised the response level from “high” to “serious” following the bird flu case, according to Ko and authorities are searching for a friend the woman traveled to Shenzhen with.
Hong Kong also suspended all live poultry imports from the city of Shezhan and has informed the appropriate authorities in China and the World Health Organization about the H7N9 strain found in the maid.
The effects of this strain of bird flu are not known yet, however, experts believe the H7N9 could be deadlier than the H5N1 since the avian flu strain could be adapting to infect mammals.
The latest case in Hong Kong comes after this strain of the bird flu was confirmed to have made a jump from birds to humans in China, in March of 2013.
At that time, two people in Shanghai died after being infected with the virus the previous month.
Following the deaths of other people who contracted the virus later on, China ordered the closure of meat markets and slaughtered live poultry in several mainland cities, in an effort to avoid a pandemic.
But according to the WHO, there has been no indication of human to human transmission of the H7N9.
Hong Kong has established a strict control system for infectious-disease control and monitoring, following several outbreaks in recent years, the Wall Street Journal says.
There have been no major outbreaks since 1977, when the H5N1 strain killed six people and led to the slaughter of 1.5 million birds.
In 2003 the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic infected 1,755 people and resulted in 299 deaths.
Since then, Hong Kong established permanent body temperature stations at all crossing borders to monitor different infectious diseases in people entering the country.