Symptom-Free Bird Flu Case Suggests more people may be catching the H7N9 influenza virus than reported. “…the virus may have been going around as a normal cold.”

Symptom-Free Bird Flu Case Suggests Wider H7N9 Spread

Bird flu was found in a 4-year-old Beijing boy who has no symptoms of the infection, health authorities said, suggesting more people may be catching the H7N9 influenza virus than reported.

The first asymptomatic H7N9 case was discovered by health care workers searching for possible cases, the Beijing Municipal Health Bureau said in a statement on its website today. The boy’s parents are poultry and fish sellers, and their neighbors across the street had bought chicken sold by the family of a 7- year-old girl whose H7N9 infection was reported two days ago.

The boy, who is under medical observation, suggests that some H7N9 infections may be going unrecorded because of a lack of obvious symptoms. Almost all the 60 previous cases in eastern China were extremely unwell, with complications extending to brain damage, multi organ failure and muscle breakdown.

“With asymptomatic cases around, I think everything changes,” said Ian Mackay, an associate professor of clinical virology at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, in a telephone interview today. “There has been a spike in pneumonia cases that have drawn the health officials’ attention, but the virus may have been going around as a normal cold.”The boy’s case was picked up as part of contact tracing — a process whereby relatives, neighbors and others known to have been in contact with a confirmed case are screened for the virus. The boy was one of 24 people tested in connection with the 7- year-old girl’s infection.

Sick or Not?

“It’s great that the authorities are showing some evidence of prospective screening of contacts, not just asking people if they are sick or not,” Mackay said. “It’s essential that lab testing of contacts is carried out as soon as possible to give us some information about the denominator: how many cases are positive for this virus, whether they’re symptomatic or not.”

The parents of the 7-year-old patient live and sell poultry in the Shunyi district of northeast Beijing. Her case was the first in northern China, demonstrating that the virus is circulating across much of the country’s east.

The girl is recovering after treatment at Beijing Ditan Hospital Capital Medical University, the official Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday, citing the city’s disease control and prevention center.

Her positive response shows that early treatment with proper anti-viral medication can be effective, Michael O’Leary, WHO’s China representative, told reporters in Beijing yesterday.

“We know also that the virus, when untreated, is very serious,” he said. “We advocate for early treatment and good medical care.”

Wider Spread

The cases in Beijing and two in Henan province widen the geographic spread of H7N9, adding impetus to the government’s efforts to gauge the magnitude of the infection in poultry and wild birds.

Shanghai’s government said yesterday that the virus killed two more people, taking the country’s death toll from the outbreak to 13. The city also reported three fresh infections while the eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang also confirmed new cases, raising the national tally yesterday to 60 from 49 on April 13.

There’s no evidence that the virus is spreading easily among people, a critical feature preventing it from developing into an epidemic. The H5N1 bird flu strain, which killed at least 371 people over the past decade, also hasn’t acquired the ability to spread easily among people. In 2009, a novel swine flu virus, known as H1N1, touched off the first influenza pandemic in 41 years.

Four international flu experts will arrive in China within days to help authorities respond to the country’s widening bird- flu emergency, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Experts Fly In

Nancy Cox, director of the flu division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta; Anne Kelso, director of a World Health Organization center for flu research in Melbourne; Malik Peiris, chairman of virology at the University of Hong Kong; and Angus Nicoll, head of the Stockholm-based European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s flu program, will arrive midweek to offer technical advice, said the people, who declined to be identified because the Chinese government hasn’t announced that the experts are being invited.

The group will seek to assist Chinese authorities grappling to identify the source and mode of transmission of the H7N9 avian influenza.

Cox referred questions to the WHO, while Kelso, Peiris and Nicoll didn’t respond to e-mails seeking comment. Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the Geneva-based WHO, said the agency has discussed a mission to China, but declined to comment on specifics. Two calls to the press office of China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission weren’t answered.

–Jason Gale, Daryl Loo. With assistance from John Liu and Penny Peng in Beijing, Simeon Bennett in Geneva, Natasha Khan in Hong Kong and Bonnie Cao in Shanghai. Editors: Jason Gale, Robert Fenner.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jason Gale in Melbourne at

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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