BEIJING, April 24 (Xinhua) -- Although infections in three people in a family have been confirmed, there are encouraging signs that the spread of the H7N9 avian influenza virus could be brought under control.
From April 13 to 23, H7N9 cases in China doubled to 108. As of Tuesday, 22 of the total cases have ended in death and 14 patients have been discharged from hospitals after treatment.
In addition to the rising number of patients, the H7N9 virus is also spreading to more regions, with a cluster of infections in a family confirmed, said Feng Zijian, director of the emergency response center of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDCP).
In Shanghai, the infected family cluster involved three patients -- a father and his two sons. The investigation into the cause of their infections remains under way.
"There is no conclusion about whether they were infected through people-to-people transmission or if they were all exposed to poultry or an environment contaminated by the H7N9 virus," Feng said.
Feng added that the infections in the family do not mean the H7N9 virus is able to be transmitted through people. "That is the consensus of both the CCDCP and international public health and disease control agencies."
RISKS AND HOPE
"We are still puzzled about why some patients were infected despite having no contact with poultry. The world knows little about this new type of virus," said Zhong Nanshan.
Zhong, director of the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases, is credited with helping to identify and then curb the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
Of all the H7N9 cases confirmed by the CCDCP, about 40 percent of infected patients had not been exposed to live poultry or poultry markets.
"Despite no people-to-people infections being confirmed, we can not rule out that out as a possibility. During the bird migration in the spring, there are also other possibilities of new viruses being produced through gene reassortment," Zhong said.
Meanwhile, the increasing number of H7N9 patients being discharged from Chinese hospitals is offering encouragement to both medical staff and the public in the fight against the virus.
On Monday morning, a 41-year-old male H7N9 patient in Huzhou City, east China's Zhejiang Province, was discharged from the hospital.
The patient surnamed Wang was infected on April 8 while culling poultry. After his H7N9 infection was confirmed on April 17, he spent five days in the hospital.
A 51-year-old woman surnamed Jia has made a full recovery and was discharged from a hospital in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang, on April 18. Jia was among the first patients in critical condition to recover.
Critically ill patients are receiving effective treatment and the death rate is falling, said Feng, adding that more H7N9 infections are being discovered earlier.
About 70 percent of interviewees are satisfied with the government's measures for controlling and fighting the H7N9 avian influenza virus, according to a survey conducted among 776 people aged 16 to 70 in six Chinese cities by the Horizon Research Constancy Group.
TIGHTENED MEASURES CALLED FOR
Current research shows that poultry is the main source of human infections of H7N9 avian influenza.
Poultry has been culled and live poultry markets have been closed in east China's Shanghai Municipality and Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, the areas in which the virus first appeared.
Some cities have temporarily closed urban bird-and-flower markets, and bird performances in zoos or scenic spots have been suspended.
Local governments should pay more attention to the management of free-range poultry and poultry trading in open-air markets, said Zhao Zongying, president of the Zhejiang Provincial Society of Agronomy.
Also, long-distance and high-density inter-provincial poultry transportation and sales all pose hidden dangers, according to insiders.
Local governments should set up a mechanism to track live poultry and poultry products throughout the industrial chain, said Wang Kai, deputy director of the pneumology department of the Second Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University of Medicine.
Wang said catering enterprises should be required to register all poultry products throughout the entire production chain, including the purchasing and sales phases.