Taipei, May 3 (CNA) The health of Taiwan's only H7N9 bird flu patient is improving, and he has been taken off a machine that functions as an artificial lung, National Taiwan University Hospital Deputy Superintendent Chang Shang-chun said Friday.
"The patient's situation has been gradually improving after intensive treatment and attentive care," said Chang, an expert in infectious diseases.
The 53-year-old man, who tested positive for the H7N9 infection after returning from China on April 9, is still receiving treatment in a negative pressure quarantine ward at the hospital but is no longer getting ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) therapy, Chang said.
"The patient remains under close monitoring and our next target is to remove him from the ventilator," he said.
Chang, who played an important role in Taiwan's fight against an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, said the deadly H7N9 bird flu virus could become less active during the summer when the weather gets warmer in China.
"As long as Chinese authorities keep close track of the infection, the H7N9 outbreak will be contained and not allowed to spread further," he said optimistically.
The H7N9 strain was unknown in humans until it was identified in sick people in China in March this year.
Scientists in China and other countries said the virus has jumped from birds, most probably chickens, to humans.
The virus has so far infected at least 127 people in China and killed 26 of them, according to the latest data from China's health authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO).
To date, Taiwan is the only place outside China that has reported an imported H7N9 case.
Nevertheless, a leading European flu expert warned Thursday that human infection of the H7N9 virus is likely to crop up in Europe and around the world.
In his first media interview since returning from an international scientific mission to China last week, Professor Angus Nicoll said the H7N9 flu outbreak in humans was one that should be taken extremely seriously.
"We are at the start of a very long haul with H7N9," Nicoll told Reuters in a telephone interview from the Stockholm-based European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), where he is head of the influenza and respiratory viruses program.
Nicoll, who visited Beijing and Shanghai in late April with a team of international scientific experts, confirmed that there is no evidence yet of the virus efficiently transmitting among humans, which would make H7N9 a serious pandemic flu threat.
The "most pressing public health question" now is to identify the source of the circulating virus that is leading to chickens contracting it and sporadically passing it on to humans, the expert said.
This is likely to take time, with any results unlikely for several months, Nicoll said.
(By Chen Ching-fang and Sofia Wu)