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CDC: 'Bird flu' likely spreads through human contact

December 27, 1997
Web posted at: 3:07 p.m. EST (2007 GMT)
Lab technicians analyzed hundreds of blood samples  

HONG KONG (CNN) -- Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say it is likely the mysterious "bird flu" was transmitted from a young boy to a health care worker through direct contact in a Hong Kong hospital last May.

CDC officials tested blood from hundreds of people who may have been in contact with the first known victim, a 3-year-old boy who died in May, or who may have been exposed to the virus in a laboratory or hospital.

CNN's Donna Liu reports
icon 1 min. 40 sec. VXtreme video

Investigators suspect the virus spread when the health care worker examined the boy's eyes, which showed signs of inflammation, and then touched his or her own face.

CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds said investigators don't think the virus called HFN1 was transmitted through droplets in the air, as is often the case with other flu viruses.

Since five of the nine positive cases were poultry workers, there's a high probability that the virus' main transmission route is from birds to humans.

Flu has killed at least 3 people

A view of the virus  

Earlier Saturday, doctors said they had discovered antibodies to the mysterious 'bird flu' virus in the blood of nine Hong Kong people who never became seriously ill.

The presence of antibodies means a person has been exposed to the virus, and has developed resistance.

Only one or two of the nine remember having had any flu symptoms, indicating that human resistance to the virus, which until recently only affected poultry, is not always as feeble as had been feared.

Among 11 people known to have developed full-blown flu from the virus, three have died. Eleven other people who have fallen sick are suspected of having the virus, and one of them has died.

Dr. Keiji Fukuda of the CDC said the long-term scenario for the flu's development remains uncertain, in part because influenza viruses are capable of mutating.

"Right now we're all in a period of uncertainty about what is going to happen to these infections in Hong Kong," Fukuda said.

He said the findings did not change three scenarios doctors have sketched out: that the virus could fizzle out, remain in the population at a low level or explode into a global pandemic.


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