Influenza virus in southern China
Neighbouring countries need to review emergency
The spread of the H7N9 virus among poultry in live bird markets (LBM)
in China's Guangxi Province has significantly increased the risk that it
will progressively spread to other neighbouring countries of China,
posing an increased human health risk, the United Nation's Food and
Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned last week.
The virus, which produces no detectable symptoms among infected
birds, has seriously disrupted poultry production and markets in 14
provinces of China, and Hong Kong SAR and Taiwan Province of China.
It has resulted in at least 290 confirmed illnesses with 66 human
deaths from animal-to-human transmission. There is no evidence of
human-to-human transmission with many human cases being linked to
poultry exposure at live bird markets (LBM).
Authorities in China have tracked movement of the infection to live
bird markets in Guangxi between January 24 and 28, 2014, where the
province's first human casualty was also reported. Guangxi Province
shares a border with Vietnam while its neighbouring province, Yunnan,
shares borders with Myanmar, Lao People's Democratic Republic and
FAO has been working closely with Vietnam's Department of Animal
Health, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, to support H7N9
surveillance in more than 60 LBMs in northern provinces of the country
since June 2013.
So far, there is no evidence that the virus is present in Vietnam or
any of China's other neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia. But there
are indications, based on previous experience with the H5N1 virus, that
H7N9 could circulate across borders.
Given the the way poultry moves between China and neighbouring
countries, and in addition to the economic losses suffered by an
outbreak, H7N9 presents a serious public health risk when there is close
contact between infected poultry and humans, particularly during times
of festival such as the recent lunar new year celebrations.
The lack of any visible symptoms among infected birds makes early
detection more challenging. Therefore, it is critical that all of
China's neighbouring countries in the sub-region review their emergency
preparedness and response plans to effectively address outbreaks of
"The key issues that need to be considered immediately are the
enhancement of ongoing surveillance and a comprehensive risk
communication plan to raise awareness of the threat H7N9 poses to animal
and human health sectors," said FAO Assistant Director-General and
Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, Hiroyuki Konuma.
"Urgent initiatives are needed to improve biosecurity in live bird
markets and a clear response plan to disrupt the transmission cycle of
the virus in case of an incursion, is also necessary."