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Local authorities set to close live poultry markets in major cities [EPA]
|Chinese officials are taking measures to prevent the spread of H7N9, a deadly strain of bird flu that has already killed 22 people this year.Three members of the same Chinese family contracted H7N9 in Hangzhou, the capital of the eastern province of Zhejiang, the worst-affected by the current spike in cases.
Local authorities are set to close live poultry markets in major cities, according to reports in official media.
Live poultry trading will be halted in cities in coastal Zhejiang province from February 15, and neighbouring Shanghai will stop trading for three months beginning on Friday.
So far this year, China has confirmed 110 human H7N9 cases, including 22 deaths, according to an AFP news agency’s tally of reports by local authorities.
By comparison there were 144 infections and 46 deaths in all of 2013, according to official figures.
Zhejiang alone has seen 53 cases this year, almost half the national total, and 12 deaths.
On Tuesday, Hong Kong’s only wholesale poultry market began culling 20,000 chickens and suspended imports of fresh poultry from mainland China for three weeks after the discovery of the H7N9 bird flu virus in a batch of live chickens from the southern province of Guangdong.
The government order took effect on Tuesday, two days before the start of the Chinese New Year, when poultry sellers generally anticipate a surge in sales.
China’s human H7N9 outbreak began in February 2013 and sparked fears the virus could mutate to become easily transmissible between people, potentially triggering a pandemic.
Both Chinese authorities and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have said there has been no evidence so far of sustained human-to-human transmission.
But limited spread, such as between relatives in close contact, is possible, and there have been previous such family clusters.
The WHO said on Wednesday that the spike in cases this year was not surprising due to seasonal factors, rather than a virus mutation.
“Today there is no evidence that the characteristics of the virus have changed in a way that would explain an increase in cases and change in case fatality,” WHO Representative in China Bernhard Schwartländer told the AFP news agency.
For the past 12 hours, the so-called PM2.5 level (or China’s new pollution threshold) has been above the “serious” level. Bear in mind this is the newly adjusted-upwards threshold that already far exceeds the WHO’s health-threatening levels.
- BEIJING WARNS RESIDENTS TO AVOID OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES ON SMOG
- BEIJING MONITORING CENTER REPORTS `SERIOUS’ AIR POLLUTION TODAY
Levels are officially “beyond index” today (with a peak at 613 so far compred to 500 “hazardous”) and the streets are empty!
City’s air quality index reading near Tiananmen Square, putting it in category defined as “serious” pollution.
City warns residents to avoid outdoor activities
Reading of PM2.5 pollution near Tiananmen Square was 583 micrograms per cubic meter as of 6 a.m., with average reading in past 24 hours at 338, according to city’s air-monitoring website
NOTE: World Health Organization recommends 24-hour PM2.5 exposure of no more than 25
The widely followed @BeijingAir twitter account confirms just how bad it is on the ground. For those confused “Beyond Index” is a friendlier way of saying “Off The Charts”
Beijing’s pollution beyond index at 600. Looks like no one wants to venture out in this. pic.twitter.com/jCbceuPH27
— Neela Eyunni (@neelaeyunni) January 15, 2014
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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.