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A vendor picks chickens at a wholesale poultry market in Shanghai, on Jan. 21, 2014. Chinese authorities confirmed on Jan. 27 that there have been cases of H7N9 spreading between humans. (AP photo)
The Chinese authorities on Jan. 27 acknowledged for the first time that they have discovered cases of human-to-human infection with the H7N9 bird flu, while remaining vague on the details in an attempt to prevent public panic.
In a short statement on Jan. 27, the authorities said that human-to-human transmission was recorded in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province. They do not specify the number of cases, nor the city in which they took place.
The H7N9 Joint Prevention and Control Office said the infection or infections took place under “particular conditions” and are “non-sustained transmissions,” meaning that it is not expected to spread from those incidents.
The case or cases in Zhejiang would be the first time that human-to-human transmission has been officially acknowledged by the authorities since H7N9, a new avian influenza, was first recorded in China in March 2013.
Experts at the China Center of Disease Control, however, said it was just a “special case,” and human-to-human transmission of H7N9 is not yet very widespread.
“The public has no need to panic too much,” said Xinhua, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party.
Zhejiang has a bad record with H7N9 infections: it has recorded 49 diagnosed cases and 12 deaths this month, the latest official report says.
A newly released “Treatment Scheme of Human Infection with H7N9 Bird Flu” by China’s Health and Family Planning Commission also now lists “limit and non-sustained human-to-human infection” as one of the ways in which the H7N9 virus may be transmitted.
More common transmission mechanisms include “infection through the respiratory tract, through close contact with secretions or excretions of infected birds, and through contact with the infected environment.”
Despite the authorities attempts at damage control in emphasizing the limited nature of human-to-human transmission, the news still came as highly unwelcome to the public. Many individuals posting on the Internet said they would avoid eating poultry, in order to protect themselves from contracting the virus. (Though it does not spread from the consumption of chicken meat.)
A large number of Chinese netizens have reported anecdotally that more people appear to be getting sick in comparison to years past.
“I have to let people know the truth. Very many people here in Harbin are sick, several times more compared to the same period in previous years,”remarked an anonymous netizen who said he or she was from northern China’s Heilongjiang Province. “There are both adults and children who have fevers above 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). Many of them have developed pneumonia.”
Internet users post such comments anonymously because information about the spread of disease is highly controlled by the communist authorities, and Chinese citizens who disclose such information without authorization can be severely punished.
“They are not confirmed to have H7N9, but the truth is that there’s such a large scale of flu, cold, and pneumonia going on, and it has very strong infectiousness. Who can give us an explanation?” the post continued. “Even nurses and doctors are sick and having fevers. What should we people do?”
There is currently no established, effective medical treatment or vaccine against H7N9. Chinese health and disease control experts suggest people should wash their hands more often, exercise more, wear masks when coming in contact with poultry, and avoiding live birds.
144 people were diagnosed with H7N9 in China last year, but just this month there have been 103 H7N9 bird flu patients, according to Chinese official reports, which may be incomplete. At least 20 have died from infection this year. New reports are issued daily with more cases.
“Mutated” Bird Flu Kills 19, Infects 96 In 2014 Already; China Says Epidemic Risk Unchanged | Zero Hedge
The H7N9 mutation of the bird flu virus is “more prone to human infection” than the H5N1 virus, with the fatality rate reaching 20-30%. China’s National Influenza Center (CNIC) has reported athat H7N9 has killed 19 in China this year already and the total number of infections has reached 96. Although , as always, details are few and far between, CNIC’s Shu Yuelong states that “the risk assessment of H7N9 epidemic outbreak is unchanged,” despite the admission that the virus is more difficult to prevent as there is no obvious symptom for H7N9 infected poultry. South Korea has expanded a poultry cull on fears of contagion.
H7N9 bird flu has killed 19 in China this year already, and the total number of human infections has reached 96, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Shu Yuelong, director of the Chinese National Influenza Center (CNIC), said on Monday that a large-scale H7N9 epidemic is unlikely during the Spring Festival holiday, as no H7N9 virus mutation that could affect public health has been identified so far.
“There is no evidence of constant inter-human transmission, and the risk assessment of H7N9 epidemic outbreak is unchanged,” said Shu.
Shu reiterated that H7N9 is more prone to human infection than H5N1, with H7N9 case fatality rate reaching 20 to 30 percent.
The virus is more difficult to be prevented as there is no obvious symptom for H7N9 infected poultry, and at present the CNIC is not able to precisely predict the direction of the mutation of the H7N9 virus.
“We will continue to strengthen monitoring and carry out research,” said Shu.
On Sunday, the National Health and Family Planning Commission issued a paper on H7N9 diagnosis and treatment, noting that early report, diagnosis and treatment are the best ways to prevent and control the virus.
South Korea is expanding a poultry cull in a bid to contain the spread of bird flu that has been found on an increasing number of farms around the country and in migratory birds.
The country’s agriculture ministry said the H5N8 strain of bird flu had been detected on six poultry farms and that there had been 13 cases in migratory birds since the first outbreak earlier this month.
No human infection has been reported, while the ministry is looking into four additional reports from poultry farms and more than 50 other suspected cases in migratory birds, it said in a statement on Monday.
South Korea will slaughter over 1.4 million farm birds, including 644,000 that have already been killed, according to the ministry. That would be under 1 percent of the country’s total 160 million poultry population.
The first case of H5N8 bird flu was found on January 17 at a duck farm in the southwestern province of North Jeolla, about 300 km (186 miles) from Seoul.
Live poultry traders in Hangzhou saw business halted Friday at the height of the Lunar New Year sales period due to the resurgent bird flu epidemic.
Hangzhou, capital city of east China’s Zhejiang province, announced Thursday that live poultry trading in its main urban areas would be halted on Friday to help contain H7N9 bird flu infections.
“So many live chickens in cages. What will I do with them?” said Li Xuemin, a live poultry vendor in the Songmuchang Open Fair in Hangzhou.
Li smoked with a glum look on his face while sitting next to his live chickens, about 40 in total, which were spreading their wings in their cages.
Li, who has been in the business for around two decades, complained about “entering the wrong business for half a lifetime,” as he had already experienced several rounds of market shutdowns due to bird flu infections.
As of Friday, Zhejiang has reported 37 cases of human H7N9 infection, the most among all regions nationwide. It was also the site of the country’s first confirmed human-to-human transmission last November.
In a circular, city authorities ordered live poultry markets in six districts to be disinfected and launched widespread monitoring over domestic fowl and birds in poultry farms, migratory bird habitats, and parks. The city’s live poultry markets and stalls were closed on Friday.
Early Friday morning, Li and his peers in the market began disinfection of their stalls and thought of ways to get rid of their live chickens and ducks.
“We have to send some to friends and relatives. As for the rest, we might slaughter them then put them in the freezer,” said Li. He added that he had decided to return to his hometown for Spring Festival early, but regretted missing out on the money-making opportunity.
The period leading up to the Spring Festival, the Chinese Lunar New Year, is traditionally the annual peak season for live poultry sales. The holiday falls on Jan. 31 this year and is an occasion when families get together in China.
Hangzhou’s two largest live poultry markets, Gouzhuang and Dajiang, closed on Wednesday.
Before its closure, live poultry trade in the Gouzhuang market totaled over 100,000 birds per day, with more than 70,000 chickens and 30,000 ducks, pigeons and geese sold daily and hundreds of fully loaded trucks pulling in and out of the market.
Now the market is quiet, with only sterilized empty cages and signs that say, “Live poultry processing forbidden, offenders fined with suspension of business.”
Jiaxing Lihua Livestock, a leading poultry enterprise in Zhejiang, suffered a massive direct loss of over 22 million yuan (US$3.63 million) in 2013.
“We prepared about three million chickens for the Lunar New Year market. When the market ban went into effect, there were still over 700,000 live chickens ready to go to market,” said Wang Zewen, chief manager with the enterprise.
“Even before the market ban, we suffered losses of about 6 yuan (US$0.99) for each chicken sold. While the market is closed, we are doomed to face even greater losses,” he said.
It is estimated that the ban will affect sales of about 10 million live poultry in the province, according to statistics released by the Zhejiang provincial poultry industry association.
On Thursday, five new human H7N9 cases were reported in Zhejiang, which has seen new H7N9 cases for the past 15 consecutive days.
Over this period, the live poultry industry has experienced a 70% drop in sales with prices falling over 50%, according to a survey on poultry businesses conducted by the association.
The neighboring city of Shanghai will also halt live poultry trading from the Spring Festival, to April 30 each year starting in 2014.
The city reported two more deaths from the H7N9 bird flu, raising the toll from the deadly virus to four so far this year, the Shanghai mayor said Thursday, without giving further details.
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More than a dozen patients are in intensive care, some on ventilators, because of the H1N1 flu virus, according to the chief medical officer for a B.C. Lower Mainland health authority.
Dr. Paul Van Buynder, with Fraser Health, said Friday that 15 patients, many of them otherwise healthy, young people, were recently admitted to hospitals in the region.
“It is a lot for us at this particular time, especially because there is not a lot of circulating disease in the community at this point, and so we’re worried that this has happened to so many people so quickly,” he said.
He says the ages of the patients turning up with H1N1 flu span the spectrum, and include those in their 30s. He also said at least one of the patients is pregnant, and also that one person may have died from this flu strain.
“I have one person who hasn’t been confirmed, but I’m pretty sure did pass away from this,” Van Buynder told CBC News.
Van Buynder said medical officials are seeing small pockets of H1N1 breaking out across the region, in a pattern mirroring the flu’s spread in Alberta, Ontario and Texas.
Alberta’s Health Minister Fred Horne says there have been 965 lab-confirmed cases, another 251 people have been hospitalized due to influenza and five people have died so far this flu season.
The H1N1 flu outbreak of 2009, which the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, prompted mass immunizations across Canada.
Van Buynder said anyone visiting a hospital or health facility in B.C. will either need to wear a mask, or be vaccinated against the flu — and he said that previous vaccinations against H1N1 may not help anymore due to mutations in the virus.
“Certainly we don’t think everybody should be reassured by previously being vaccinated, and we’d like them to make sure that they go out and get it again,” he said.
Fraser Health serves more than 1.6 million people from Burnaby to Hope, to Boston Bar.