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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 February, 2003, 18:00 GMT
Bird flu claims Hong Kong victim
Killing of chickens in Hong Kong
1.4 million chickens were slaughtered in 1997

A man has died of a bird flu virus in Hong Kong, the first known fatality from the disease since six people died there in 1997.

That outbreak sparked worldwide alarm and prompted a mass slaughter of chickens in the former British colony

Authorities in Hong Kong have urged local people not to panic, but warned people to be careful when handling poultry.

The 33-year-old man is thought to have contracted the H5N1 bird virus while visiting family in mainland China's south-eastern province of Fujian, Hong Kong health officials said.

He most likely caught it from infected poultry rather than another human, they stressed.

Doctors originally thought that the man had died from pneumonia, which has identical symptoms to bird flu.

There is no need to panic... There is no suggestion that we have avian flu
Hong Kong secretary for health Yeoh Eng-kiong

The man's nine-year-old son is stable in hospital after also contracting the disease.

His younger sister has also died from what was diagnosed as pneumonia, and tests are being made to establish whether she also caught the bird virus, health officials said.

Different strain

"There is no need to panic... There is no suggestion that we have avian flu," Hong Kong's secretary for health, Yeoh Eng-kiong said, the French news agency AFP reported.

Health officials said the boy was infected with a different strain from the one that hit Hong Kong in 1997, and that tests were under way to see if the father and son contracted the same type.

"It's most likely they were infected with the same kind of virus," Deputy Director of Health, P.Y. Leung was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency.

The 1997 outbreak was a major global public health scare as it was the first time the flu avian virus had infected humans.

All Hong Kong's 1.4 million chickens were slaughtered, and the territory has established strict monitoring for the disease, which can only be told apart from normal flu by laboratory tests.

Only last week there was another health panic in Hong Kong and nearby parts of south China when a mystery lung-based virus killed six people and laid low more than 300.

The scare led to a run on traditional and Western medicines and the price of vinegar - believed to prevent viral infections - jumped ten-fold.



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The BBC's Emma Jones
"Anxiety remains high"



SEE ALSO:
Virus panic sweeps China
11 Feb 03 |  Asia-Pacific
Hong Kong bird flu fears
21 Dec 02 |  Asia-Pacific
Avian flu
08 Feb 03 |  A-B
Hong Kong to slaughter chickens
28 Dec 97 |  Despatches
Country profile: China
10 Dec 02 |  Country profiles


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