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Taiwan confirms world's first human infection of H6N1 (update)

2013/06/21 18:01:24

Taipei, June 21 (CNA) A 20-year-old Taiwanese woman has been infected with the H6N1 avian influenza virus, the first time the flu strain has been reported in humans anywhere in the world, a Department of Health (DOH) official said Friday.

Yang Ching-hui, a division chief at the DOH's Centers for Disease Control (CDC), said the case was first reported to the center by a local hospital May 20.

"The hospital said it was unable to classify the subtype of avian influenza A virus found in the patient's respiratory specimen," Yang said.

The patient, who lives in central Taiwan and works at a breakfast shop, developed mild pneumonia in early May and was hospitalized on May 5, Yang said.

"The patient was discharged from the hospital on May 11 after recovering from her illness," Yang said.

According to Yang, the patient had never been abroad and had no history of contact with poultry.

The CDC eventually determined that the woman's virus was the H6N1 strain after further examining her respiratory specimen and looking at their whole genome sequence, Yang said.

The CDC later found that 36 people had come into contact with the patient, and four of them had flu-like symptoms.

"But after examining them, we found that none were infected with the H6N1 virus," Yang said.

Chuang Jen-hsiang, director of the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Center, said H6N1 is a low pathogenic bird flu strain and is commonly found in poultry.

"There had never been reports of human infection of this strain of virus until now," Chuang said, adding that there was no evidence of person-to-person transmission in this case.

The genome sequencing of the virus isolated from the Taiwanese patient's respiratory specimen most closely resembles the H6N1 virus isolated from locally grown chickens, Chuang said.

Antiviral medications Tamiflu and Relenza have proved effective in treating the virus so far, he said.

The DOH has informed the World Health Organization, the United States, the European Union, Japan, South Korea, China and Hong Kong of the case, Chuang said.

Wang Jen-hsien, commander of the CDC's infectious diseases prevention and control network in central Taiwan, said the case was a sporadic one.

"It probably resulted from environmental pollution," Wang said.

According to Wang, the H6N1 virus mainly spreads among poultry and has been detected in poultry raised in Taiwan in the past.

Chao Pan-hua, deputy director-general of the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, said the agency had collected samples from two poultry farms in the vicinity of the patient's home, but did not find any sign of the H6N1 virus.

"We have ordered the poultry farm operators to tighten sanitation management," he added.

Chao said the government's decision to ban the slaughter of live poultry at traditional marketplaces from May 17 will contribute to protecting people from being infected by avian flu viruses.

(By Kung Jui-yun and Sofia Wu)
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