Beijing: A four-year-old boy, who was infected with the deadly new H7N9 bird flu, surprised the Chinese health officials by recovering from the disease, believed to be incurable as there is no medicine to treat it.
    
His recovery proves that not every human infection of H7N9 avian influenza is severe, they said, even as World Health Organisation said there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission.
    
"From a clinical point of view, the boy has recovered," said Wu Fan, the director of the Shanghai Disease Control and Prevention Centre. The boy will need to remain in the hospital for further observation, Wu added.
    
The boy's temperature is normal and he has no respiratory symptoms, said Yu Hui, director of the infectious disease department of the Children's Hospital affiliated with Fudan University, where the boy is being treated. The new bird flu strain has sickened at least 21 people in Shanghai and the east China provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui, killing six of them.

As the virus spread during the past few days, China had approved a drug which is reportedly being administered to patients. China Food and Drug Administration said the potential of injections of peramivir diluted in sodium chloride has been proven successful by preliminary tests. There are currently no standards for the discharge of H7N9-infected patients in China. For the more common H1N1-infected patients, a full recovery period of 7 days and two negative virus tests are required before the patient can leave the hospital.

Flu not cause for panic: WHO

Meanwhile, World Health Organization said that the strain of bird flu that has been found in humans for the first time in eastern China is not a cause for panic. "So far, we only have sporadic cases of a rare disease, and perhaps it will remain that way. So this is not a time for over-reaction or panic," said the WHO's representative to China, Michael O'Leary.

The WHO praised China for mobilizing resources nationwide to combat the H7N9 flu strain by culling tens of thousands of birds and monitoring hundreds of people close to those infected.

H7N9 is a new virus in humans and the pattern that it follows cannot be predicted by the patterns that we have from other influenza viruses," O'Leary said. No cases have yet been reported outside of China, he added.

WHO further said that it has yet to find evidence that the new avian influenza has become human-to-human transmissible. "Although we do not know the source of infection, at this time there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission," O'Leary said.
    

WHO may send global experts

O'Leary said growing interest in the virus globally has prompted WHO to consider sending an international team, comprising epidemiological, laboratory and communications experts, to China.
    
A 87-year-old man surnamed Li and his two sons in Shanghai were hospitalised recently for showing symptoms like fevers and coughing. Li and the younger son died, and the other son has recovered. But H7N9 bird flu virus has only been found in the father. "The family cluster raises the possibility of human-to-human transmission, but two of the cases in that cluster have not been laboratory confirmed," O'Leary said, adding, "There is no other evidence pointing toward sustained transmission among people."

Asked an alleged link between the cases and the large number of dead pigs that were recently found dumped in rivers in east China, he said the pigs' connection with the human infections has been ruled out. In some of the H7N9 cases, the infected people were found to have had contact with animals, he said, citing the appearance of the virus in pigeons in a Shanghai marketplace. These cases indicate that the virus may have crossed from animals to humans, he said, adding a related investigation is under way.
    
The H7N9 strain previously was known only to infect birds, and health officials are still clueless about know why the virus is infecting humans now.
    
Initiatives to fight the epidemic

WHO has been closely collaborating with the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) and other government departments, he said, adding WHO does not deem it necessary at present to introduce screening measures at ports of entry or adopt any restrictive measures on tourism and trade. He said the public should maintain good health habits and only eat properly cooked meat.
    
According to a Chinese health official, Beijing has started research for the development of vaccines for the H7N9 bird flu virus. However, complications in the development and manufacturing process mean it may take about six to eight months before the vaccine can be brought to market, said Liang Wannian, the director of the H7N9 influenza prevention and control office under the NHFPC.
    
Liang said the decision to put the vaccine into production will depend on whether the virus can mutate to become human-to-human transmissible. If it become evident that the virus is spreading among humans, the vaccine will be required, but it would be uneconomical to distribute the vaccine if such signs do not appear, Liang said. He further said vaccination is not the only effective way to prevent the disease. "We are taking a series of measures to prevent and control infections. Infection monitoring efforts are under way in over 500 hospitals and 400 labs nationwide," Liang said.

The bird flu outbreak has caused global concern and some Chinese internet users and newspapers have questioned why it took so long for the government to announce the new cases, especially as two of the victims fell ill in February.

Airline shares have fallen in Europe and in Hong Kong over fears that the new virus could be lead to an epidemic like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which emerged in China in 2002 and killed about 10 percent of the 8,000 people it infected worldwide. Chinese authorities initially tried to cover up the outbreak of SARS.

JPN/Agencies

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