Taiwanese health officials confirm two additional lab cases of avian flu

Health officials in Taiwan recently confirmed two additional cases of avian influenza A (H7N9), marking the third and fourth official cases reported by the Taipei Centers for Disease Control.

Officials in the country have responded to the outbreak by tracking close contacts and keep the patients under observation. Authorities have also ramped up investigations of pneumonia resulting from unknown causes and routine flu surveillance.

One of the patients-a 44-year old woman from Jiangsu province in China-fell ill just before traveling to Taipei with a tourist group. Despite her illness, she traveled to the capital city just five days later, where she eventually ended up under medical observation.

The woman reported purchasing a slaughtered chicken at a wet market in mainland China one week before the onset of her symptoms, which included weakness and poor appetite.

Another patient-a 39-year-old man who frequently travels to Taiwan-said he was hospitalized with illness after a trip to Beijing and Jiangsu earlier in the spring, though he did not report exposure to poultry or wet markets.

Wet markets in East Asia traditionally sell fresh meat and produce. Outbreaks of both SARS and the avian flu have been traced to such marketplaces, leading health officials to question sanitation standards.

In 2008, the government of Hong Kong proposed new rules that would require vendors to slaughter all poultry at central stations to prevent the spread of disease, though public dissent led officials to abandon the plan.