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June 27, 2017

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Confirmed: Avian influenza infects first Taiwan national of the year

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taiwan's health authorities on Saturday reported this year's first case of a human infected by avian influenza (H7N9) and are actively tracking the health of as many as 108 people who came in contact with the patient over the past two weeks.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced that a Taiwanese businessman in mainland China was confirmed to have been infected with the H7N9 virus several days after returning from the mainland on Jan. 25.

The 69-year-old man, a Kaohsiung native, is now under intensive care and remains unresponsive.

The man developed a fever on Jan. 23 while working in China's Guangdong province and had sought medical treatment there, said Lo Yi-chun, deputy director general of the CDC.

He returned to Taiwan on Jan. 25 and went to a local hospital the following day. He was suspected to have been infected with avian influenza A. At the hospital, he tested negative for the H7N9 virus, said Lo.

But on Jan. 29, the patient showed signs of a fever and coughing with phlegm and went to the hospital again, at which time doctors suspected that he had pneumonia.

Subtype of Influenza A

The patient was hospitalized on Feb. 1 when he was again suspected to have an avian influenza A infection. A second test confirmed the patient to be infected with H7N9, a subtype of the influenza A virus, Lo said.

Lo said that the CDC readied a list of 108 people with whom the patient had contact over the past few days, including six colleagues in mainland China.

Of the six colleagues, two showed respiratory symptoms but saw the symptoms ease after receiving medical treatment. Two family members had not developed any respiratory symptoms, said Lo.

Lo said that health units around the island would closely monitor the health of the 108 people in question and would provide them with health education brochures, self-health management notices and preventive medicines.

Lo said that cases of H7N9 infection in humans were not easy to identify in early stages, adding that infections were often only confirmed after patients became more severely ill, such as when they developed pneumonia.

Fatality Rate of up to 40%

The fatality rate for H7N9 bird flu is between 30 to 40 percent, he said.

The CDC said that January was the peak season for H7N9 infections in China. It asked Taiwanese visitors to mainland China or those planning to visit the mainland to take precautions, such as avoiding touring live poultry markets, paying close attention to personal hygiene, coming in contact with live birds or eating undercooked chicken, duck and goose dishes.

Taiwan has reported five confirmed cases of human infections of H7N9 since the virus was first found to have infected a human in 2013, with all cases originating from mainland China, according to CDC tallies. The same statistics showed that mainland China had reported 261 cases of H7N9 infection since October 2016.

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