Bird flu affecting half of China: ‘controllable’ but may spread further
National health commission puts provincial authorities on alert as the country grapples with its worst outbreak of the deadly bird flu strain
Chinese health authorities have issued stern warnings over the H7N9 bird flu outbreak in the last two days, admitting the situation had already affected half of the country and could lead to even more fatalities.
Since January, human deaths and infections from H7N9 have been reported in 16 provinces and municipalities, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission.
While the situation was still “preventable and controllable”, the commission warned in a statement on Tuesday that if the situation was not tightly controlled the virus could spread further.
The virus had killed at least 87 people by February 12, including 79 in January.
It is the highest death toll since the first known human infection in 2013, and most of the cases have been in the Pearl and Yangtze River delta areas.
In the previous three years, January’s death toll had ranged between 20 and 31.
The commission’s statement came one day after it warned provincial health authorities across the country, including Xinjiang and Tibet, of the risks of the latest H7N9 outbreak.
Local authorities were ordered to make “utmost effort” to contain the disease and minimise deaths.
The World Health Organisation said there were no signs of sustained human-to-human transmission in bird flu cases this year, but it would remain “vigilant” over the puzzling outbreak in which affected poultry did not show any symptoms.
The strength of the outbreak has spurred authorities in central and southern China to close poultry markets. Earlier this month, Zhejiang shut down its live poultry markets. Some cities in Jiangsu have banned live poultry trade as well.
In addition, Guangdong province has suspended the sale of poultry from high-risk areas in Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui and Jiangxi, and ordered each city to restrict the live poultry trade.
In Guangzhou, where H7N9 was detected at 30 per cent of live poultry markets, sales have been suspended since Thursday, with the ban remaining in place until the end of the month.
The order appears to have been enforced to an unprecedented extent in the city, where residents have a strong preference for buying live chickens over frozen ones.
“It is really strict this year. Vendors secretly sold live chickens when there was a similar ban before, but not this time,” one vegetable vendor at a wet market in Guangzhou’s downtown Yuexiu district said.
Guangzhou resident Zhang Jiehong, 47, said fear of catching the virus stopped her from going to a wet market unless absolutely necessary.
“I’ve caught a cold and I have elderly people at home. I don’t want to catch something in the market,” Zhang said.
The commission said contact with H7N9-infected poultry or exposure at a market with live poultry were high risk factors and shutting down such markets had proved effective.
Additional reporting by Mimi Lau