China’s poultry industry lost 10 billion yuan (US$1.6 billion) in the week after the H7N9 bird flu virus began infecting humans, state-run media said on Monday as they sought to discourage panic.
Altogether 60 people have been confirmed as infected and 13 have died in the two weeks since Chinese authorities said they found the strain in humans for the first time.
“The public should somewhat restrain their anxieties to avoid this becoming a disaster for the whole poultry industry,” the Global Times said in an editorial, adding that not eating poultry was “unfair to farmers”.
It called the avoidance of such foods “excessive anxiety” and urged people instead to “demonstrate a collective spirit beyond individualism”.
The number of cases spiked by 20 over the weekend and spread for the first time beyond Shanghai and three nearby provinces, with two cases reported just west in Henan and one in Beijing, hundreds of kilometres away.
Experts fear the prospect of such viruses mutating into a form easily transmissible between humans, which would have the potential to trigger a pandemic.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said there is as yet no evidence of human-to-human transmission of H7N9.
Health authorities in China say they do not know exactly how the virus is spreading, but it is believed to be crossing from birds to humans, prompting mass culls in several cities. Beijing has banned the live poultry trade.
China’s health and family planning ministry said on its website over the weekend that poultry and eggs can be consumed if they are cooked thoroughly.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation has said H7N9 shows “affinity” to humans while causing “very mild or no disease” in infected poultry, making it more difficult to find the source of transmission.
In 2003 Chinese authorities were accused of trying to cover up the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which went on to kill about 800 people worldwide.
But China has been praised for transparency over H7N9, with the WHO saying it was pleased with the level of information sharing.