There will be an increase in H7N9 bird flu cases in the mainland this winter, the World Health Organization chief predicts.
The warning from director-general Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun came at the opening ceremony of the UN agency's high-level meeting in Macau, themed "Implementation of WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy: 2014-2023."
Chan praised mainland authorities for a high degree of transparency in tackling H7N9, noting they "announced the successful research on the H7N9 virus by the University of Hong Kong and Zhejiang University. They also shared the test results with other nations through WHO" - a first step to developing a vaccine.
"This is a positive phenomenon," she said. But asked when a vaccine could be ready, the former Hong Kong health director did not respond.
The mainland reported the world's first human cases of H7N9 bird flu in spring of this year.
As of Friday, 45 out of 136 mainland patients confirmed to have contracted the virus had died.
On two cases reported this month, both in Zhejiang, Chan said health authorities must keep a close watch.
"Our observations show influenza generally becomes active during autumn and winter," she said. "We have already urged mainland authorities to be on the alert for any new influenza that may trigger a worldwide outbreak.
"But I am not saying H7N9 will follow this trend," she added, which was why the situation must be watched.
"We've used WHO's system of worldwide monitoring to predict which virus would possibly cause an outbreak," Chan went on. "This year we have to watch out for H7N9.
"It may not cause any outbreak, but it should not be overlooked either."As Hong Kong's chief medical health officer in 1997, Dr. Chan saved the city, and maybe the world, from a possible H5N1 disaster by ordering the destruction of all the poultry in the Special Administrative Region. It was a drastic but successful measure that drove H5N1 underground for six years, and outbreaks since then have been sporadic.
That very real scare also led to the creation of Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection, which has since become one of the best public health agencies in the world.