Hong Kong confirmed its first case of the deadly H7N9 bird flu, prompting authorties to declare a "serious" pandemic- level alert.
The virus, which had been confined to the mainland, has raised worldwide alarm because of its pandemic potential. It has sickened a total of 140 people in the mainland since April, killing 45.
A 36-year-old Indonesian domestic helper, who had traveled to Shenzhen to buy live chicken at a market on November 17, is in critical condition at Queen Mary Hospital.
Four members of her own family also have respiratory symptoms and have been isolated at Princess Margaret Hospital. A friend who went to Shenzhen with the woman is being traced.
The government raised the flu pandemic preparedness plan to "serious" as a result of the case, Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man said last night. Hong Kong has been on "alert" since last year.
The woman was confirmed with H7N9 at about 8pm to 9pm yesterday, he added. Three poultry farms in Shenzhen were also suspended from exporting chickens to Hong Kong.
Centre for Health Protection controller Leung Ting-hung said: "We are not sure where [the friend] is now and we have no idea whether she lives in Shenzhen or in Hong Kong."
Ko said: "[The helper] has a history of traveling to Shenzhen and buying chicken, slaughtering the chicken and eating the chicken."
Ko said the woman started displaying symptoms on November 21. She consulted private doctors on the same day and again on November 25.
She developed breathing difficulties and fever last Wednesday and was admitted to Tuen Mun Hospital. Two days later, she was transferred to the hospital's intensive care unit. On Saturday, she was transferred to Queen Mary Hospital, where she is now on a respirator.
Ko defended the delayed confirmation. He said tests were done on Thursday and Saturday but results showed negative. But when her condition deteriorated she was tested again. The result was only confirmed last night.