Half of China’s provinces hit by bird flu outbreaks in January

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China’s health commission has confirmed deadly outbreaks of H7N9 avian influenza occurred in 16 of the country’s 31 provinces last month.

Confirmation that over half of China’s provinces had reported outbreaks and fatal cases of H7N9 avian influenza in January came during a conference convened this week by the National Health and Family Planning Commission on formulating a nation-wide response to the virus.

A summary of the conference published by the commission on Tuesday asserted that the situation could be contained, “but without decisive measures, the epidemic situation will spread further.”

The commission recorded 192 cases of H7N9 bird flu reported in mainland China last month, with 79 deaths. Numbers reported by state news agency Xinhua last week showed that as of February 17 there had been 77 additional cases reported this month, with eight fatalities.

In its latest report on influenza transmitted by animals, the World Health Organization also noted there had been H7N9 cases in Hong Kong and Macau during the December 20-January 16 period.

H7N9 avian influenza was first discovered in China in March 2013. Most cases of human infection report recent exposure to live poultry or possibly contaminated environments such as markets where live birds are sold – a common feature of southern Chinese cities.

The WHO maintained in its January report that public health risk from H7N9 and similar strains of influenza had not changed, and that while further human infections with viruses of animal origin are expected, “the likelihood of sustained human-to-human transmission of these viruses remains low.”

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