Press Release



Special Investigation Group on Avian Flu recommends close monitoring of situation and more scientific studies


The Special Investigation Group on Avian Flu met today (Sunday) to assess the impact of the discovery of influenza A (H9N2), an avian influenza virus, in humans and to make recommendations on the way forward.

The Group was chaired by the Deputy Director of the Hong Kong Department of Health, Dr Paul Saw and comprised public health doctors, veterinarians as well as both local and overseas experts in microbiology and epidemiology.

The Group commended the prompt detection of the two cases in Hong Kong which reflected the effectiveness of Hong Kong's influenza surveillance system.

It noted the satisfactory outcome and full recovery of the two girls in Hong Kong found to have contracted influenza A (H9N2). It also noted that the virus is usually causing mild symptoms, if any, among birds and poultry.

The Special Investigation Group initially considered that the discovery of the virus does not appear to pose an imminent major threat to public health. However, several investigations should be started, in case other H9 human cases appear later and because H9 viruses, similar to other influenza viruses, can change or re-assort and become more easily transmitted.

The situation should therefore be kept under close monitoring and surveillance.

Speaking after the meeting, Dr Keiji Fukuda, Chief of Epidemiology Section of the Influenza Branch of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta said: "The major question about the isolation of influenza A (H9N2) virus in humans is whether they pose a major health risk for people."

To answer this question, Dr Fukuda said the Group should find out

* whether there are other H9N2 infections in people in Hong Kong

* the mode of transmission of the virus to humans

* the risk factors of contracting this virus

* the relation between H9 infection in poultry and in people

To do this, the Special Working Group recommended that several different studies and activities be conducted. These included:

* most importantly, enhanced influenza surveillance should be continued

* epidemiological studies to identify risk factor and mode of transmission of these viruses

* prevalence studies to find out how common these infections are right now in birds and human

Dr Paul Saw said the Department of Health would co-ordinate actions recommended by the Special Investigation Group.

He said the Group also agreed that chicken and poultry are safe to eat if they are cooked thoroughly. However, public are reminded again to observe good personal hygiene by washing hands thoroughly after contact with poultry, animals and their excreta.

End/Sunday, April 11, 1999