Chicken (via Flickr/Tomasz Nowicki)
On Mar. 17, 2016, an 81-year-old woman in Hong Kong was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia and later transferred after testing positive for the H7N9 strain of avian influenza. She is currently stable. She visited a wet market while visiting Kaiping, Guangdong Province, and was exposed to recently slaughtered poultry.
Three other people, a 45-year-old man from Xuancheng and a 43-year-old mother and her 23-year-old son from Ji’an City, contracted H7N9 recently. The man is in critical condition, while the mother and son are stable.
Another case was reported in the Hubei Province with the H5N6 strain. A 35-year-old man checked into the hospital on April 12 and is in critical condition.
Other than the 81-year-old woman, it is unknown how these people were exposed. However, wet markets, where live or recently slaughtered poultry are sold, are prime suspects, particularly in cities where inhabitants are rarely in contact with farm animals.
The difficulty of controlling exposure in wet markets is well known. In February 2015, positive tests for H7N9 caused Guangzhou to ban live poultry from wet markets for five days. The ban was ineffective, as sellers illegally sold birds outside the market or in private homes and apartments.
Buyers cooperate, as they want freshly slaughtered animals and often disbelieve the warnings that have been issued by the government. The Chinese government needs to increase awareness of the dangers of avian influenza for the poorest segments of the population, who may have limited internet access and poor reading skills.