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February 11, 2014

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New warning as H7N9 bird flu toll hits 31 for 2014

At least 31 people died from H7N9 bird flu in China this year, the government announced yesterday, while health experts predicted more H7N9 cases in the near future.

A total of 127 human H7N9 cases have been confirmed so far this year, with Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces the worst affected, according to a statement by the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

The number is almost as high as for the whole of last year, when China had 144 confirmed cases, including 46 deaths.

The commission said that there will continue to be sporadic reports of H7N9 infections.

Flu viruses are seasonal and the first human cases emerged in February 2013, so that the outbreak did not encompass all of last winter. It has reignited fears that a bird flu virus could mutate to become easily transmissible between people, threatening a pandemic.

But NHFPC spokesman Yao Hongwen told a press conference: “So far the features of human infection of the H7N9 bird flu have not had obvious changes and most cases remained sporadic.

“Our monitoring has not found any ... mutation in the virus and the way the virus spreads remains poultry-to-human.”

The World Health Organization also says there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission.

Chinese researchers are developing vaccines for the disease and one has passed a safety test on animals, Yao added.

But according to reports clinical trials in humans have yet to begin.

According to Shu Yuelong, director of the Chinese National Influenza Center, the number of H7N9 cases has soared in early 2014 as people eat more poultry around the Chinese lunar new year.

China’s traditional and popular live poultry trade should be replaced by frozen meat distribution to reduce the risk of H7N9 bird flu infection, Shu said.

Live poultry markets are common in China and elsewhere in Asia, and present an ideal environment for virus spread between birds kept together in very high concentrations.

Zhejiang has said that such facilities will be closed in the province’s major cities and affected smaller towns for three months by February 15, and permanently in major cities from July 1.



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