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Press Release

Discovery of the first case of influenza A virus (H5N1) in man in HK

August 20, 1997

A strain of influenza A virus (H5N1) has been isolated in man in Hong Kong recently, the Department of Health announced today (Wednesday).

This virus, known to infect birds primarily, was for the first time ever detected in man.

The case involved a three-year-old boy who died in Queen Elizabeth Hospital in May 1997 due to multiple medical complications.

Tracheal aspirate of the boy, sent to the government Virus Unit for testing, grew atypical influenza A virus.

Isolates were then sent to World Health Organisation Collaborating Influenza Laboratories in the United States of America and the United Kingdom as well as a research laboratory in the Netherlands for further identification.

Results from USA and Netherlands showed that the virus was influenza A of H5N1 strain. This is the first time in history this virus was isolated in human being.

The World Health Organisation was informed of the recent discovery.

Speaking at a press briefing today, the Director of Health, Dr Margaret Chan advised members of the public not to panic as there was as yet no conclusive evidence indicating the virus posed any significant threat to man. Investigations indicated that this was the only case found so far.

"In view of the importance of this discovery, a special team has been set up to work closely with local experts, international experts and health agencies to assess the global health impact of this strain of influenza virus in man, and, where applicable, to expedite the development of a new vaccine," Dr Chan said.

"Meanwhile, the Department of Health is actively conducting field investigations and laboratory tests with other organisations to trace the source of infection.

"On the other hand, a medical team was sent to the deceased's home to collect blood specimen from his family members. Blood tests results showed that his family members had not been infected with the virus and the case is considered to be an isolated incident.

"We have also stepped up our influenza surveillance activities and shall continue to monitor the situation closely with international experts/centres," she said.

Dr Chan supplemented that the best way to combat influenza infection is to build up body resistance by having a proper diet with adequate exercise and rest.

Good ventilation should be maintained to avoid the spread of respiratory tract infection, she added.

  Last Revision Date : 22 March 2007