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EPIDEMICS
China closes markets, culls birds to curb H7N9 virus
by Staff Writers
Shanghai (AFP) April 05, 2013


UN urges strict hygiene to avoid spread of H7N9 virus
Rome, 05 Avr 2013 - The United Nations on Friday presented a list of recommendations, including a strict hygiene culture and keeping different breeds of animals apart, to try to curb the spreading of the H7N9 flu virus which has killed six people in China.

"With the virus harder to detect, good biosecurity measures become even more essential to reducing the risk of virus transmission to humans and animals," said Juan Lubroth, the chief veterinary officer of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Among the precautions, the FAO recommended farmers and other livestock handlers to regularly wash their hands and keep animals separate from living areas, warning that "close contact with infected animals can put people at risk".

The organisation also said people should avoid eating sick animals and that they should not be fed to other animals.

It recommended keeping different types of animals and species apart and to cull infected animals "if the human threat is confirmed as animal in origin".

"It is important that all signs of illness or sudden and unexplained deaths in poultry, farmed birds, wild birds or other animals are reported to the authorities so that they can deal with them safely and help stop the virus spreading," it said.

Lubroth said that "with this virus we don't have a red flag that immediately signals an infection. This means farmers may not be aware that virus is circulating in their flock. Biosecurity and hygiene measures will help people protect themselves from virus circulating in seemingly healthy birds or other animals."

The number of confirmed human infections in China rose to 16 Friday, with four of the six fatalities in Shanghai. Officials said two new infection cases had been detected in the eastern province of Jiangsu, and a seven-year-old girl had been quarantined in Hong Kong for tests after returning from Shanghai, showing flu-like symptoms.

Hong Kong girl tests negative for H7N9
Hong Kong (AFP) April 5, 2013 - A seven-year-old Hong Kong girl has tested negative for the H7N9 flu virus, officials said Friday, after she became the city's first suspected case of the disease that has killed six killed on mainland China.

The girl, who had visited Shanghai in late March and had contact with poultry, was hospitalised after she showed flu-like symptoms including fever.

"Preliminary laboratory test results for the respiratory specimens of the seven-year-old girl today showed negative" for the virus, a spokesman from the Centre for Health Protection said.

The H7N9 flu virus has killed six in China and prompted the closure of all live poultry markets in Shanghai as well as the culling of over 20,000 birds.

Hong Kong's Health Minister Ko Wing-man said the city would step up random testing of local poultry and mobilise additional staff to carry out body temperature checks on inbound travellers at the border with the mainland.

He added that a ban on imports of of poultry from mainland China was not necessary at the moment.

Hong Kong was the site of the world's first major outbreak of bird flu among humans in 1997, when six people died from a mutated form of the virus, which is normally confined to poultry. Millions of birds were then culled.

Experts are concerned that the H7N9 virus appears to have spread across a wide geographical area, with people sickened not only in Shanghai, but also the nearby provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui.

Shanghai ordered all live poultry markets in the city closed on Friday after culling more than 20,000 birds to curb the spread of the H7N9 flu virus, which has killed six people in China.

The latest fatality was a 64-year-old farmer who died in Huzhou, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, local officials said according to the state Xinhua news agency.

He was the second person from Zhejiang to die from the bird flu strain, with the other four fatalities in Shanghai, China's commercial hub.

The number of confirmed infections rose to 16 with two new ones in neighbouring Jiangsu.

Tests on a seven-year-old girl quarantined in Hong Kong after showing flu-like symptoms following a trip to Shanghai came back negative, officials said.

Shanghai is China's biggest city with a population of 23 million people and municipal government spokesman Xu Wei said its live poultry markets were being shuttered temporarily for "public safety" purposes, and all trade in live poultry banned.

The moves came after the virus was found in pigeon samples from the Huhuai market in Shanghai, officials said, where a total of 20,536 chickens, ducks, geese and pigeons had been slaughtered.

Local television showed men in protective clothing and facemasks entering the market in the city's western suburbs during the night, and dozens of empty birdcages.

On Friday, the entrance to the poultry section was concealed with wooden boards and sealed off with plastic tape, with a police car parked nearby and white disinfectant powder sprinkled in the street.

Two staff members at the market told AFP the slaughter was completed overnight.

Consumers in the city snapped up banlangen, a traditional Chinese medicine for colds made from the roots of the woad plant, used as a blue dye in ancient times.

"We sold out. People are buying it one after another. Everyone is afraid of bird flu," said an employee at the SPH drugstore in downtown Shanghai.

The outbreak was among the most popular topics on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo, with 4.7 million posts referring to H7N9. "H7N9 is really frightening, I think you can easily catch it and easily die," said user Zhou Linlinlin.

The United Nations on Friday drew up a list of recommendations to try to curb the spread of H7N9.

Advice given to those handling birds stressed the importance of regular hand washing, keeping animals away from living areas and avoiding eating sick animals.

"With this virus we don't have a red flag that immediately signals an infection. This means farmers may not be aware that (the) virus is circulating in their flock," said Juan Lubroth, the chief veterinary officer of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation.

"Biosecurity and hygiene measures will help people protect themselves from virus circulating in seemingly healthy birds or other animals."

Hong Kong stocks tumbled 2.73 percent as investors fretted over the flu, with airlines the hardest hit.

The World Health Organisation has played down fears over the H7N9 strain, saying there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission, but that it was crucial to find out how the virus infects humans.

Like the H5N1 variant, which can spread from birds to humans through direct contact, experts fear such viruses could mutate into a form easily transmissible between humans, with the potential to trigger a pandemic.

Shanghai city health official Wu Fan also said Friday there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission. One person who had been in close contact with a victim had shown flu-like symptoms but tested negative for H7N9, she said.

The first two deaths from the virus, which had not been seen before in humans, occurred in February but were not reported by authorities until late March. Officials said the delay in announcing the results was because it took time to determine the cause of the illness.

In 2003 Chinese officials were accused of trying to cover up the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed about 800 people around the world.

But the state-run China Daily on Friday quoted the ministry of health in Beijing as pledging "open and transparent exchanges with the WHO and other countries and regions".

US health authorities said Thursday they were liaising with domestic and international partners to develop a vaccine for the virus.

Experts are concerned that the virus appears to have spread across a wide geographical area, with people sickened not only in Shanghai, but also the nearby provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui.

"I am cautiously worried," virologist John Oxford of the Queen Mary University of London told AFP. "Because it is so geographically widespread I think it is trying to tell us something."

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EPIDEMICS
H7N9 bird flu strain has worrying traits: experts
Paris (AFP) April 05, 2013
A mutated bird flu virus that has killed six people in China displays worrying traits that warrant high vigilance, experts say, though the true extent of the threat is unclear. Most concerning is the virus' wide geographical spread, and the fact that it seems to be spreading unseen among its host animals, possibly chickens or ducks. "I am cautiously worried," virologist John Oxford of th ... read more


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