International experts said on Wednesday that the latest H7N9 bird-flu virus was "one of the most lethal influenza viruses" seen so far, as Taiwan reported the first infection outside mainland China.
As of March 31, the mainland confirmed 108 cases and 22 deaths, while Taiwan confirmed the first case on Wednesday. The patient was a man who had recently returned from working in eastern China, where most of the H7N9 cases have been reported.
“This is definitely one of the most lethal influenza viruses we have seen so far,” said Keiji Fukuda, a leading flu expert with the World Health Organisation, who led a team on a week-long visit to China to study the virus.
Fukuda told the press that the latest strain was more easily transmissible than the more common H5N1 virus. Experts had previously remarked on the “affinity” H7N9 virus had for humans.
Taiwanese health authorities said their first case, a 53-year-old man who had returned from the mainland city of Suzhou in Jiangsu province, developed symptoms three days after arriving.
Taiwanese Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta said the patient had not been in contact with poultry or eaten undercooked birds or eggs while in Suzhou.
The WHO team said that though poultry was the likely source of the H7N9 outbreak as chickens, ducks and pigeons in the markets had tested positive, it also warned about the potential for human-to-human transmission.