WHO says there is no way to predict how the new strain of bird flu can spread but the emergence of new cases in difference areas are not surprising.
BEIJING, CHINA (APRIL 14, 2013) (REUTERS) - The World Health Organisation's China representative, Michael O'learysaid on Sunday (April 14) that the bird flu virus was a "sporadic disease" adding it was not surprising if new cases emerged in difference parts of the country.
Three cases have now been reported outside the original clusters in eastern China, including one in the capital Beijing, but O'Leary said there is nothing out of the ordinary so far.
"I think there's no way to predict how it'll spread, but it's not surprising if we have new cases in different places like we now do in Beijing for reasons that I've mentioned. I mean this is a sporadic disease. As far as we know, we are still looking intensively for the reservoir of infections but suspicions remain in birds, chickens, ducks and poultry, so because it is sporadic, it can occur in other places, and with the intense watching for it, we are sure that other cases will emerge," he told reporters in Beijing.
Two people in the central Chinese province of Henan have been infected by a new strain of avian influenza, the first cases found in the region and bringing the total number nationwide to 51, Xinhua state news agency said on Sunday.
One of the victims, a 34-year old man in the city of Kaifeng, is now critically ill in hospital, while the other, a 65-year old farmer from Zhoukou, is stable. The two cases do not appear to be connected.
A total of 19 people in close contact with the two new victims were under observation but had shown no signs of infection, Xinhua said.
On Saturday (April 13), the China Centre for Disease Control and Preventionconfirmed that a seven year-old child in the capital of Beijing had been infected by the H7N9 bird flu virus, the first case to be reported outside of eastern China, where the new strain emerged last month. The child's parents work in the poultry trade.
O'Leary said the Beijing case had not changed their assessment.
"This case being, occurring in Beijing doesn't change our risk assessment overall of the situation. It's one additional case out of 49, it's a little bit farther scattered than the original cases were, but they were scattered as well, and there's nothing else different in the overall situation to change our perspective. So no, we're not taking this as a sign of anything new or dramatically different," he said.
The husband of a H7N9 victim in Shanghai was recently infected, but O'Leary said there was no cause for alarm.
"If there's only very rare cases of that, as we actually have in H5N1 for example, we've had for many years; if there's only very rare cases, that's different from the ease of transmission from person to person. It's that ease of transmission that we are concerned about, and there's no evidence of that yet," he said.
Investigators are trying to ascertain the source amid fears that it could cause a deadly pandemic similar to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, which killed about one in 10 of the 8,000 people it infected worldwide.
China has been anxious to avoid a repeat of the panic of 2003 by promising total transparency, and O'Leary said his organisation has been "very pleased" about the way information was being shared.