International medical experts have opened an investigation into the mysterious death of a 3-year-old boy who had an influenza virus previously known only to infect birds.
The boy died in May after contracting the viral strain known as influenza A(H5N1), which commonly infects birds and poultry but had never been found in humans, health officials said Friday.
Experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the World Health Organization have arrived to join a team set up by the Hong Kong Health Department.
Dr. Daniel Lavenchy, head of the WHO influenza program, said investigators were confident they would be able to report on the “nature of the virus within two weeks,” the Hongkong Standard newspaper said Friday.
Since there is no sign the virus was passed from human to human, no special measures will be taken immediately, WHO said.
“What’s unusual about it is, it’s the first time an avian influenza virus has been isolated from a human,” CDC flu expert Nancy Arden told The Associated Press.
“(But) up to this point, we don’t have any evidence of this spreading,” she added.
The virus struck several chicken farms suddenly in April and farmers approached the Hong Kong government for help because their birds were dying, Dr. Kitman Dyrting said.
Dyrting, a veterinarian, said the rare outbreak in the farms appeared to be over, the South China Morning Post reported Friday.
“What large countries do is kill off all the birds, but we can’t do that here,” Dyrting told the paper.
“Even if we kill all the diseased birds, it could still come in from China.”
Hong Kong imports much of its poultry from China.
The Hong Kong government said it was too soon to jump to conclusions about the boy’s death. Margaret Chan, head of Hong Kong’s Health Department, said tests showed the boy’s family had not been infected with the virus.
Arden said experts think this case will have no bearing on the upcoming flu season in the United States.
“It in no way affects the appropriateness of this year’s influenza vaccine,” she added.