Koreans warned about lethal bird flu in China

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Koreans warned about lethal bird flu in China

After a strain of avian influenza infected 429 people and killed 99 in the past few months in China, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) issued a warning to travelers to Shanghai, Macau, Beijing and Sichuan and Guangdong provinces.

“The H7N9 avian influenza virus is spreading throughout China and rapidly infecting many people,” the KCDC said in its press release on Thursday.

“Travelers to the country are advised to avoid coming in contact with fowls and to wash their hands as often as possible.”

The health authority noted that the H7N9 virus is a different type of avian influenza from the H5N6 and H5N8 viruses that have surfaced in Korea. It confirmed that the H7N9 strain has not infected fowls or humans in Korea.

The KCDC said that as many as 429 people have been infected with H7N9 in China from October to mid-February, of whom 99 died as of January. The fatality rate of the virus is 34.7 percent, according to the health authority.

“Ever since the H7N9 avian influenza infected humans in China from 2013, the virus has been periodically active from October until April in the country every year,” the KCDC said. “The number of human infections there is expected to increase for a while.”

It added, however, that human infection remains limited in scope, occurring among family members of infected patients and doctors and nurses. “The likelihood of the virus entering Korea via travelers or migratory birds exists but is slim,” the KCDC said.

As of this month, human infections have surfaced in 17 areas in China, including Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Guangdong, Hunan, Anhui, Hebei and Sichuan provinces, as well as Beijing, Shanghai and Macau.

Travelers to the 17 regions must submit a health-status checklist to the quarantine station at the airport when returning to Korea, or be fined 7 million won ($6,155) in violation of the Quarantine Act. In Zhejiang and Jiangsu, more than 50 have been infected each.

When a traveler to the infected regions experiences fever or respiratory problems within 10 days of return, he or she should call the KCDC call center at 1339, and receive further instruction on making a visit to designated hospitals or health centers.

The KCDC said it will ensure 17 medical institutes in Korea are ready around the clock to make diagnoses.

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]
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