Bird flu season becoming a serious concern for Chinese authorities

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Chinese consumers typically prefer live poultry over processed birds
Chinese consumers typically prefer live poultry over processed birds

Related tags Influenza

A series of human infections from bird flu this year, alongside a spate of import bans, illustrates the acute fear among Chinese officials over the threat posed by live poultry during this particularly turbulent winter period.

Chinese authorities are already taking measures to restrict the live poultry trade in a bid to curb H7N9 avian flu, but there are concerns over how it will effect the industry, Xinhua, China’s official news agency, has reported.

At a government promotion in the southern city of Guangzhou this week, customers were encouraged to buy processed poultry, rather than live birds.

"Residents in Guangdong prefer fresh poultry to processed ones, but in terms of nutrition, there is no difference​," said Wu Shengming, vice-director with the office of the Guangdong provincial food safety commission. 

More cases reported

Wu’s comments came shortly after another H7N9 avian flu victim died in Shangdong, while a second Shanghai resident this year fell ill from the influenza last weekend. East China's Zhejiang province has reported 14 human cases of H7N9 avian influenza infection so far this winter. Most of the patients had contact with live birds, officials said.

According to a regulation on poultry trading and management issued by Guangdong in December, restricted areas for live poultry trade in cities will be established, and no more than three live poultry retail markets are allowed in any one restricted area.

Such markets require the cleaning and sterilisation of live poultry and transport cages every day. No unsold live poultry can remain overnight.

In downtown Shanghai’s Huangpu district, all five live poultry markets have been closed permanently.

And in Fujian, live bird traders have been ordered to clean their stalls and slaughter areas every day, disinfect every week and close the markets once a month for a thorough cleanup.

However, although the country seems so far to have made progress in preventing and controlling H7N9 bird flu, doubts remain that the measures are necessary and effective.

"Few live poultry traders and butchers get infected with H7N9​," Bi Yingzuo, an expert with South China Agricultural University, told Xhinhua. "The flu has a closer link with people' s immunity than live birds​.”

New treatment on the horizon

In 2013, an H7N9 outbreak led to losses worth more than RMB40bn (US$6.7bn) after the closure of poultry markets.

Meanwhile, Chinese scientists believe they have identified a targeted antibody that can significantly reduce H7N9 symptoms in monkeys.

The study, published in British medical journal "Clinical Infectious Diseases," demonstrates patients infected with H7N9 virus often end up dead after severe pneumonia and systemic inflammation caused by acute lung infection.

African green monkeys were inoculated with the H7N9 virus and treated intravenously with an antibody. The treatment markedly reduced lung and systemic inflammation, according to the study. The results show promising progress on helping treat the virus in humans.

Related topics Policy Food safety Meat China East Asia

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