The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations calls for increased vigilance and preparedness against H7N9 bird flu in neighboring countries as China prepares for its Lunar New Year celebration that begins January 31. The group says "millions of people and poultry are expected to be on the move and many households will slaughter poultry at home to celebrate the New Year."
"The number of human infections with H7N9 has considerably increased since late December in East and Southeast China, according to the World Health Organization (WHO)," says FAO. "The increase in cases was expected, as influenza viruses traditionally show increased activity during the winter months. So far, no other country has reported influenza A(H7N9) in humans, animals or in the market place."
The FAO points out there is strong evidence that people become infected following close contact with infected live poultry, mostly in live bird markets or when slaughtering birds at home. According to WHO, no sustained human-to-human transmission has occurred so far. Genetic analysis by FAO reference centers has revealed that the virus has not changed significantly since its emergence last year.
"Chinese authorities are enforcing important measures to reduce the risk of human exposure to the A(H7N9) virus," said FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth. "This includes temporary closures of live bird markets, regular market rest days, improved hygiene in markets, heightened and ongoing surveillance in poultry and live bird market environment, and control of poultry movements."
According to the WHO, another 24 human cases of H7N9 were reported in recent days, adding to the 24 reported last week. Commodity markets are keeping a close tab on the situation as the spread of disease in the past has resulted in a slowdown of feed demand as the poultry population is thinned out to control the disease.