Hong Kong holds the dubious dual distinction of having dealt with the first human outbreak of H5N1 in 1997 - one that resulted in 18 infections and 6 deaths - followed six years later with the SARS epidemic, where they saw 1750 local cases, and 286 deaths (see SARS And Remembrance).
With just over 7 million residents in their 1,100 sq km territory - most of which are densely packed into a much smaller metro area - the ability of a virus to spread quickly is a constant concern.With Mainland China reporting record numbers of human H7N9 cases, and Hong Kong already having detected 4 imported cases this winter, those concerns are even more elevated than normal.
Today Hong Kong's government has announced new steps they will be taking in order to detect, and contain, the H7N9 virus should it turn up in local poultry.
February 15, 2017
The Government will take multiple measures to deal with the increased risk of avian influenza infection.
It held an interdepartmental meeting today to discuss the situation.
The Centre for Health Protection said a record 364 people have been infected with H7N9 globally during the peak flu season so far, mostly on the Mainland, and it is very concerned about the situation.
This is the fifth wave of H7N9 infections since the strain first appeared in 2013.
Centre for Health Protection Controller Dr Wong Ka-hing said: "The rise in the numbers in human cases, up till now, has already surpassed all the previous years, including the highest number in the second wave. So it is a concern for the Mainland as well as for Hong Kong."
Dr Wong noted recent surveys showed there is more environmental contamination by the H7 virus in Mainland live poultry markets.
"From the latest environmental samplings of live poultry markets in a number of Mainland provinces, the contamination rate by the H7 virus appears to be higher than previous similar surveys.
"In Guangdong, the latest survey done in January revealed a positive rate close to 10%. In Jiangsu a positive rate of 15.8% was revealed from the environmental samples in live poultry markets.
"So this degree of environmental contamination by the H7 virus might reflect that the circulating virus in the poultry could have been higher than the previous periods."
The Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation Department will step up random checks on local farms to ensure they strictly comply with measures to prevent the spread of avian flu.
The Food & Environmental Hygiene Department will increase checks on poultry stalls in wet markets.
It is also planning to introduce a new rapid test for the H7 strain in wet markets.