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Thursday, March 12, 2015, 09:12

Experts urge stricter poultry monitoring

By Cheng Yingqi
Experts urge stricter poultry monitoring
A live poultry vendor washes chicken cages in Kowloon City Market. Latest research from the University of Hong Kong shows H7N9 bird flu may potentially become a long-term public health threat. (Edmond Tang / China Daily)

Experts have called for stricter monitoring of the trade in live poultry from the mainland to Hong Kong. This is after the latest research results showed that H7N9 bird flu may potentially become a long-term threat to public health and spread beyond the mainland.

Researchers from the University of Hong Kong recently traced the evolution and spread of H7N9, based on influenza surveillance, in live poultry markets at 15 mainland cities and hospitals in Shenzhen.

The survey results were to be published by international scientific journal Nature on today (Thursday) morning.

“There were no human infections in Guangdong province in the first wave of the H7N9 outbreak in early 2013. However, in the second wave since the fall of 2013, Guangdong has become the most severely affected province,” said Zhu Huachen, a HKU research author.

“So in the research we tried to figure out how the H7N9 virus re-emerged and how it would develop in future,” Zhu added. The survey identified 493 H7N9 viruses on 16,299 apparently healthy chickens at live poultry markets, or 3 percent of the sample. Human cases had been reported in all cities where the H7N9 virus was detected in chickens.

“This means chickens at live-poultry markets are the direct source of human H7N9 infections. Since chickens infected with H7N9 all look very healthy, the virus is likely to spread without being noticed, which poses challenges to current disease control systems,” Zhu said.

Genome research shows that the H7N9 viruses originated in East China, mainly Zhejiang province, and disseminated to other regions including Jiangxi and Guangdong. 

Without monitoring, the viruses are likely to spread to nearby countries and regions including Hong Kong.

“However, while different from H5N1, which can be spread by migratory birds, H7N9 is unlikely to be transported far because we have only observed the viruses in chickens,” said Guan Yi, a professor of the State Key Laboratory of Emerging Infectious Diseases at HKU, also an author of the research.

“As a result, preventing direct contact between humans and live poultry will be key to averting the transmission of the viruses,” Guan suggested the government should strengthen quarantine on live poultry traded from the mainland.


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