Hong Kong has confirmed a new human case of H7N9 bird flu, while the H5 bird flu virus has been detected in two cats that died in the South Korean city of Pocheon, it was reported on Friday.
Health officials in China are expecting the number of cases to go up as winter sets in. The last bird flu outbreak to affect China occurred in 2013 and killed 36 people, while the South Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is conducting tests to verify whether it is the same highly contagious H5N6 strain that has led to the culling of more than 25 million birds in the country so far this winter.
The Chinese patient was hospitalized Tuesday and remains in stable condition. Those in close contact with the patient were placed under medical surveillance, but none of them have reported symptoms of the illness. The 70-year-old patient had traveled to Shenzhen and Zhongshan earlier in December.
Authorities have not determined the source of the illness, but have noted that the man passed by stalls selling live poultry while in Zhongshan. Another elderly man from Hong Kong, who had previously bought a chicken at a market in the Guangdong province, died Sunday from H7N9, roughly a week after being tested positive for the deadly virus.
The South Korean ministry detected the H5 strain of bird flu in the remains of the cats found dead at the beginning of the week and It is the first time that Seoul has detected bird flu in mammals since February 2015 when the virus was found in a dog. Authorities said people suspected of having been in contact with the cats have not shown any signs of infection; however, because the incubation period of the virus in humans is 10 days, the situation is still being monitored, according to news agency Yonhap.
A total of 16 cases have been reported in China. China's Ministry of Agriculture told Reuters news agency on Friday the recent bird flu outbreaks have been handled in a timely and effectively manner without spreading.
China has culled more than 170,000 birds in four provinces since October and closed select poultry markets after birds and people were infected by bird flu. China is the world's second largest poultry consumer. Surrounding nations, including South Korea and Japan, have also culled hundreds of thousands of birds following bird flu scares in recent months.
In South Korea, the H5N6 strain was detected for the first time on Nov. 16 in the feces of migratory birds in Haenam. The incident marks the first outbreak of bird flu in the country since April when 12,000 poultry were put down. The largest bird flu outbreak in recent years in the country occurred in 2014 and led to the culling of 14 million birds, resulting in significant losses for the sector.
Towards the end of 2015, South Korea had 155 million chickens and 8.7 million ducks. Transmission of H5N6 to humans is very rare, with only a few cases detected in China.