SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2016

Proactive prevention stops spread of avian flu

The spread of A H7N9, an influenza strain commonly known as avian flu, has been stopped in Hong Kong thanks to proactive preventative measures taken by health care professionals.

The A H7N9 strain is known for high morbidity and death rates. Although the contraction rates between people are lower for A H7N9 than for other influenza strains, there have still been cases that spread among families.

A study, published in the January issue of "Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology," looked at the efficacy of the measures that proactively prevented the spread of avian influenza. Researchers observed the Queen Mary Hospital in Hong Kong from April 2013 to May 2014 to see how the virus responded to the proactive measures.

The staff were trained to use an approach that integrated active surveillance, infection quarantine and diagnostic testing. Researchers also studied unprotected health care workers who were exposed to the virus.

During the 13-month study, 163,456 patients were admitted to the hospital. Staff tested 126 of the patients for the avian flu. Only two of the patients tested positive.

"The emergence of A H7N9 influenza in March 2013 posed a public health threat both locally and internationally because of the risk for airborne transmission," Dr. K.Y. Yuen, a lead author of the study, said. "Despite the delay in airborne precaution implementation, we suspect that high hand hygiene compliance, as a result of continuous implementation of proactive control measures against various viruses and multidrug-resistant organisms, protected frontline health care workers against many challenges of emerging infectious diseases."

Among health care workers at the hospital, 70 were unprotected and exposed to the virus during the study. Other workers prevented exposure through the standard measures – hand hygiene and surgical masks. None of the hospital staff tested positive for avian flu.

"As we look at lessons learned from this outbreak, the high false-positive screening rate and other delays in diagnosis may have resulted in unprotected exposure of frontline staff,” Yuen said. “However, enhanced surveillance methods appeared to be an important safety net for the detection of A H7N9.”