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Joint exercise held on avian flu
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Health authorities of the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Macao held a joint communication exercise Monday shortly after a man in east China's Jiangsu Province died of avian flu on Sunday.

The exercise was to test their cooperation and coordination in mounting an emergency response in the event of a cross-border incident of avian flu involving human cases.

The Secretary for Food and Health Dr. York Chow, who led Hong Kong's team in the exercise, said the joint exercise was a valuable opportunity for the three places to review their response actions via video-conference in respective command and control centers.

"The exercise has further bolstered collaboration and communication among the three places in emergency preparedness and response for public health crisis," Chow said, adding "the importance of timely notification and collaboration for the prevention of avian influenza and pandemic influenza was highlighted."

The Director of Health, Dr. P Y Lam, said that the Department of Health would strengthen its work with health authorities on the Chinese mainland and in Macao in the prevention of infectious diseases.

It was the second joint exercise organized under the Cooperation Agreement on Response Mechanism for Public Health Emergencies signed by the three places in 2005.

Code-named "Great Wall 2007", the exercise was based on a scenario in which several members of a family on the Chinese mainland had been infected with avian flu during a visit to a poultry market and one of them had traveled by public transport to Hong Kong via Macao before symptoms emerged.

During the exercise, emergency responses set out in preparedness plans were tested, including the notification of counterparts in the three places, epidemiological investigation of the affected patients, contact tracing and medical surveillance for probable cases.

More than 60 public health officials and medical personnel took part in the exercise. Participating organizations included the Food and Health Bureau, the Department of Health and the Hospital Authority in Hong Kong, the Ministry of Health in Beijing, the Jiangsu province Health Department and the Health Bureau of Macao.

The scenario of Monday's exercise unfolded when a 17-year-old girl living in east China's Jiangsu province was confirmed to have been infected with avian influenza virus after visiting a local poultry market with her mother, brother and uncle. Her mother and brother also developed influenza symptoms while her uncle had arrived in Hong Kong via Macao.

The Ministry of Health promptly notified the Center for Health Protection in Hong Kong and the Health Bureau of Macao of the case.

In order to control and prevent the spread of the disease, the health authorities of the three places immediately swung into action.

In Hong Kong, the Department of Health promptly located the girl's uncle who had developed symptoms of influenza upon arrival in Hong Kong. The man was taken to an isolation ward of the Health Authority's Infectious Disease Center for treatment. A nasal swab taken from him subsequently tested positive for the deadly H5N1 influenza virus strain.

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government activated the "Serious Response Level" and the Health Authority activated the corresponding contingency measures.

After epidemiological investigation and contact tracing, the Department of Health in Hong Kong found 22 people who had had contact with the man while he traveled and stayed in Hong Kong. All of them were taken to a holiday village for quarantine and were put under medical surveillance.

At the same time, Hong Kong and Macao authorities received notification from the Chinese mainland that the index patient's mother was confirmed to have been infected with avian influenza virus.

The exercise ended when the participants exchanged information on their respective actions and the latest situation in the three places and the situation was subsequently brought under control.

(Xinhua News Agency December 3, 2007)

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