H7N9 avian flu
The influenza A (H7N9) virus is one subgroup among the larger group of H7 viruses that normally circulate among birds. A number of human infections of the H7N9 virus have been reported in eastern China, mostly in the Yangtze River Delta region since late March 2013. Some of the patients have died of severe pneumonia brought on by the virus.
Japan ramps up defences as fears of H7N9 grow
Introduction of emergency legislation brought forward amid raft of public health measures
The Japanese government has instituted a series of measures designed to keep at bay the H7N9 bird flu sweeping through China, while pharmaceutical companies are making plans to deal with an outbreak in the event the disease beats defences at airports and ports.
"We are trying to gather as much information as possible, from the Chinese authorities, from the World Health Organisation and other similar agencies, and we are making that information available to people through our web site and other routes," said Koji Nabae, director of the Infectious Diseases Department of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.
"We are alerting travellers coming back from China and other areas where there have been reports of cases to go to their local health centre if they have any symptoms," he said.
There have been no cases reported in Japan to date, although the death toll in China has reached nine and a total of 28 human infections have been reported since the virus was first confirmed in Shanghai and the nearby provinces of Anhui , Jiangsu and Zhejiang.
The Japanese government is also planning to bring forward the introduction of a new law in an effort to fight the spread of the highly virulent strain of flu, Jiji Press has reported.
Enacted last year, the new law was due to go into effect in May and will allow prefectural governors to order the cancellation of meetings and suspension of operations at communal entertainment facilities. It also permits authorities to expropriate medical supplies and food from local companies to help deal with an outbreak.
The new legislation could go into effect as early as tomorrow, Jiji reported.
Japan has more than 60 million courses of anti-virals in its stockpiles, sufficient for 45 percent of the population, and its risk-assessment efforts are ongoing, Nabae said.
Pharmaceutical companies are also making preparations in case the virus reaches Japan, with Tamiflu, Inavir and Relenza recognised by the WHO as being effective in combating infection if they are administered sufficiently early.
"We have a large stock of anti-virals in the country already and we believe we can cope with any situation that arises here," said Yoshiaki Komatsu, a spokesman for the Japanese unit of British drug giant GlaxoSmithKline.
"Globally, we are about to start discussions with health authorities to see what we can do to halt the spread of this virus as we obviously do not want it to develop into a pandemic," he said.
The outbreak is less serious than the H1N1 swine flu crisis of 2009, experts say, although there is concern among health authorities that it could evolve into a pandemic strain in the future.