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Questions remain as Hong Kong's avian flu crisis continues

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.316.7125.91 (Published 10 January 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:91
  1. Joanne McManus
  1. Hong Kong

    The outbreak of avian flu in Hong Kong continues to ring alarm bells and dominate headlines worldwide. The H5N1 influenza A virus has been confirmed in 16 people and is suspected in another four cases. Four people have died, and three remain in a critical condition.

    Because these are the world's first reported human cases of a flu strain previously known to infect only birds, fears have been raised that the virus might spark a flu pandemic. There are too many unanswered questions, however, for anyone to be sure. For example, researchers have yet to determine the original source of the virus, the mode of transmission from birds to humans, whether human to human transmission is possible, what the incidence is in Hong Kong, whether fowl or animals apart from chickens are affected, whether anyone in mainland China has been infected with the disease, and the rate at which the virus is mutating.

    The outbreak began in early May, when a 3 year old boy died from respiratory failure secondary to viral pneumonia. When scientists at Hong Kong's Department of Health could not identify the strain they sent specimens to …

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