________________________________________________________________________ No evidence of human-to-human spread of 'bird flu,' WHO reports Copyright ) 1997 Nando.net Copyright ) 1997 Agence France-Presse HONG KONG (December 23, 1997 9:24 p.m. EST http://www.nando.net) - The World Health Organization said it had found no evidence of human-to-human spread of the deadly "bird flu," which is believed to have claimed four lives in Hong Kong and has sparked a ban on all chicken imports from China. The WHO in a statement from Geneva late Tuesday said the H5N1 influenza strain, dubbed "bird flu" because it previously only affected poultry, showed no sign of human-to-human transmission. The statement came hours after the virus was believed to have claimed a fourth victim in Hong Kong, following three confirmed deaths since May including a 13-year-old girl who died Sunday from "multiple organ function failure." The latest victim, a 60-year-old woman, was listed as having had a "suspected" case of H5N1, a government spokesman said. "The cause of death is pneumonia, it is not yet confirmed at this stage whether she suffered from Influenza A H5N1 infection," the spokesman said. There have been nine confirmed and three suspected cases of H5N1, including the 60-year-old woman. The WHO statement predicted that more cases of the virus would be detected in the territory as a result of "enhanced surveillance activities now in progress." Dr Daniel Lavanchy, a WHO specialist on influenza who visited Hong Kong, said: "The cluster of cases which has been observed within a family does appear to have a common source and we are working to identify that." "The cases so far isolated come from all parts of Hong Kong and there is still no definite sign of human-to-human transmission," the statement said. The WHO said there was no need to impose travel restrictions or quarantine measures on Hong Kong. Japan and Taiwan have warned people to be wary of the virus while travelling to Hong Kong. Research to produce a seed virus for a potential vaccine was under way, the WHO noted, but it said that because the virus "translates poorly" a vaccine was not immediately necessary. Hong Kong officials however were taking no chances and announced a temporary ban on all chickens imported from China, beginning Wednesday. Experts have found traces of the virus in chicken droppings in the territory. The South China Morning Post in an editorial Wednesday welcomed the ban. "It is important for public morale to demonstrate that every possible precaution is being taken to track down the source of the virus and stop it from spreading," the paper said. Deputy Director of Health Dr Paul Saw, who heads a committee on the virus, announced the ban and said evidence so far suggested exposure to chicken or their feces was a possible source of infection. Saw confirmed the WHO findings that human-to-human transmission still needed to be determined, the government spokesman said. Leslie Sims, senior veterinary officer of the Agriculture and Fisheries Department, said the ban on chicken imports was a precautionary measure. "Each shipment of imported birds will be screened for evidence of Flu A infection, using a rapid blood test," Sims said. "Any shipments that test positive will not be allowed to be sold until further testing can be done to assess the birds." Inspections for H5N1 contamination would be carried out on all chicken farms in Hong Kong by the first week of January and could result in the extermination of the entire poultry stock. "They will only be allowed to go into business when they are found to be clean," said Saw, as chicken farmers claimed their business had dropped 80 percent following the scare.
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