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WHO's China head: Beijing H7N9 case not surprising

The head of the World Health Organization’s office in China Michael O’ Leary speaks to journalists outside the WHO office in Beijing Sunday, April 14, 2013. O’Leary said Sunday that it wasn’t surprising that a new strain of bird flu that has sickened dozens in eastern China has spread to the capital. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

The head of the World Health Organization’s office in China Michael O’ Leary speaks to journalists outside the WHO office in Beijing Sunday, April 14, 2013. O’Leary said Sunday that it wasn’t surprising that a new strain of bird flu that has sickened dozens in eastern China has spread to the capital. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

In this photo taken on Saturday, April 13, 2013, health workers prepare to enter the home of a seven-year-old H7N9 bird flu patient to take blood samples from her parents at Gucheng village on the outskirt of Beijing. China. The World Health Organization’s chief said Sunday that it wasn’t surprising that a new strain of bird flu that has sickened dozens in eastern China has spread to the capital. (AP Photo) CHINA OUT

In this photo taken on Saturday, April 13, 2013, security guards clear out a stall belonging to the parents of a seven-year-old H7N9 bird flu patient as people sit outside the family’s home in Gucheng village on the outskirt of Beijing. The World Health Organization’s chief said Sunday that it wasn’t surprising that a new strain of bird flu that has sickened dozens in eastern China has spread to the capital. (AP Photo) CHINA OUT

Chinese people wear face masks near a specialized fever clinic inside the Ditan Hospital, where a Chinese girl is being treated for the H7N9 strain of bird flu, in Beijing Sunday, April 14, 2013. A World Health Organization official said Sunday that it wasn’t surprising that a new strain of bird flu has spread to China’s capital after sickening dozens in the eastern part of the country. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

A nurse escorts a man to take a blood test at a specialized fever clinic inside the Ditan Hospital, where a Chinese girl has been admitted for the H7N9 strain of bird flu, in Beijing Sunday, April 14, 2013. The World Health Organization’s chief said Sunday that it wasn’t surprising that a new strain of bird flu that has sickened dozens in eastern China has spread to the capital. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

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BEIJING (AP) — A World Health Organization official said Sunday that it wasn’t surprising that a new strain of bird flu had spread to China’s capital after sickening dozens of people in the eastern part of the country.

Up until Saturday, when Beijing officials reported the capital’s first case of H7N9, all cases had been in Shanghai and other areas of eastern China. On Sunday, the first two cases were reported in central Henan province, which is next to Beijing.

It’s not the case that everyone confirmed to be infected with H7N9 was “clustered in one small area with the same source of exposure,” said Michael O’Leary, head of WHO’s office in China. “So we’ve been expecting new cases to occur. … Furthermore, we still expect that there will be other cases.”

A 7-year-old girl was Beijing’s first confirmed case of H7N9. Four more cases were reported in eastern Zhejiang province on Sunday, bringing to 55 the number of people sickened from the virus. Eleven of the victims have died.

Health officials believe the virus, which was first spotted in humans last month, is spreading through direct contact with infected fowl.

O’Leary said “the good news” was that there was still no evidence that humans had passed on the virus to other humans.

“As far as we know, all the cases are individually infected in a sporadic and not connected way,” he said, adding that the source of infection was still being investigated.

The girl, whose parents are in the live poultry trade, was admitted to a hospital Thursday with symptoms of fever, sore throat, coughing and headache, the Beijing Health Bureau said.

O’Leary said early treatment can be effective, as demonstrated by the girl, who was in stable condition.

In the only other reported cases outside of eastern China, health officials in Henan province said tests on two men Thursday revealed they had the virus.

They said a 34-year-old restaurant chef who had displayed flu symptoms for about a week was in critical condition in a hospital, while a 65-year-old farmer who was in frequent contact with poultry was in stable condition after receiving treatment.

They said 19 people who had been in close contact with the two men had not shown any flu symptoms.

China has been more open in its response to the new virus than it was a decade ago with an outbreak of SARS, when authorities were highly criticized for not releasing information.

Associated Press

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