The Public Health Department is alerting the public and healthcare workers in the Cayman Islands of an outbreak of a new type of bird flu virus in China.
The influenza infection, known as “novel influenza A (H7N9)”, has led to at least 13 fatalities and there have been 60 laboratory confirmed human cases of the infection in China, but no cases have been reported outside of that country.
Director of Public Health Dr. Kiran Kumar said he wanted to make the public and medical staff in Cayman aware of the outbreak and disseminate information about the disease, adding that at this point there did not appear to be any cause for alarm in Cayman about the disease.
The 13 fatalities have been reported in four provinces – Anhui, Henan, Jiangsu and Zhejiang – and in the two cities of Beijing and Shanghai.
More than 1,000 close contacts of the confirmed cases, including contacts of these newly reported cases, are being closely monitored, public health officials say.
“At this point in time, the risk of international disease spread is considered to be low. To date, preliminary findings of on-going investigations have not shown that transmissions from human to human among contacts have occurred. Nevertheless, investigations into a possible family cluster are on-going,” a public statement from the Cayman Islands Department of Health read.
Symptoms of the disease include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. There is no vaccine to prevent H7N9 and health investigators are trying to determine how the disease is being spread. The virus is normally only found in birds.
The World Health Organisation’s 13 April Risk Assessment described two cases in which family members of people ill with H7N9 also have pneumonia-like symptoms. “Two confirmed cases have been associated with possible family clusters, in which one and two additional family members, respectively, developed severe pneumonia,” the report read. In one case, 24 people associated with a seven-year-old girl in Beijing are being tested for the virus.
The World Health Organisation has advised against the application of any travel or trade restrictions on China, based on current information. The WHO also does not advise special screening at points of entry with regard to H7N9.
The United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention is repeating its standard advice to travellers and Americans living in China to follow good hand hygiene and food safety practices and to avoid contact with animals. The CDC advises citizens in China to avoid touching animals whether they are alive or dead and to avoid live bird or poultry markets and to only eat food that is fully cooked.
Cayman’s Public Health Department is in touch with the Pan American Health Organisation and WHO, and as well as public health services in the United Kingdom and the Caribbean Public Health Agency, about the outbreak.
Influenza A H7 viruses are a group of influenza viruses that normally circulate among birds. The influenza A(H7N9) virus is one subgroup among the larger group of H7 viruses. Although some H7 viruses (H7N2, H7N3 and H7N7) have occasionally been found to infect humans, no human infections with H7N9 viruses have been reported until recent reports from China, according to the WHO.