Fears remain high in a country where deadly viruses have jumped from animals to humans before. "I've been really afraid to shop here since I heard the news that they found the virus in pigeons here," said Cheng Long, 26, a restaurant cook shopping for vegetables at the same market. He now avoids the stray dogs roaming the market in case they have been infected: "I come here every day and can't afford to take any chances. People like us are the first ones to get sick from such diseases."
Health experts have given kudos to Beijing for being forthcoming with information, sharing the H7N9 virus' gene sequencing and samples with the World Health Organization's global research centers and providing timely updates of new infections and deaths. During the SARS outbreak in 2003, some patients were taken out of hospitals in Beijing and driven around the city to keep them out of sight as a visiting team of WHO investigators toured health facilities.
"I think all of us have been very impressed with the Chinese response," said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota infectious-disease expert. "You gotta give credit where credit's due."
But old habits die hard. In one case, it is not clear if authorities even informed a patient's relatives about his condition after the virus was discovered. Wu Demao, the father-in-law of Wu Liangliang, one of the first patients — and at 27, the youngest so far — to die from the virus, said his family only found out that his son-in-law was one of the first victims of the new virus when friends alerted him to official media reports on March 31. That was more than two weeks after the son-in-law fell sick and died when his lungs failed.
"Even I don't really know what his condition was. The cause of his death was not told to us, even after he died. It was not clear until my friends and relatives told me," Wu said outside his rented apartment in Minhang, a Shanghai suburb, on a recent evening. "We asked if it was SARS or bird flu. The hospital could not answer. They just said it was severe pneumonia." A woman who answered the phone at the No. 5 People's Hospital in Shanghai said it was not the facility's responsibility to notify relatives about the diagnosis.
Wu said his family was being treated like pariahs in their community amid fears about the virus, and that they were asked to leave their pork stall at the neighborhood market because its manager felt the media attention they were attracting was bad for business. Wu and his wife declined to comment further, lamenting: "It's no use. We are just ordinary people, no one will help us."
Associated Press researcher Fu Ting in Shanghai and AP medical writer Margie Mason in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.
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