Human infections with the influenza A(H7N9) virus are on the rise again in China and the upcoming Chinese New Year festivities provide opportunity for further spread and human exposure, FAO has warned.
Millions of people and poultry are expected to be on the move and many households will slaughter poultry at home to celebrate the New Year, the FAO said in a statement. The organization has called upon neighbouring countries to remain vigilant in the face of A(H7N9) and other avian influenza viruses, such as highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1.
The number of human infections with H7N9 has considerably increased since late December in East and Southeast China, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The increase in cases was expected, as influenza viruses traditionally show increased activity during the winter months. So far, no other country has reported influenza A(H7N9) in humans, animals or in the market place.
There is strong evidence that people become infected following close contact with infected live poultry, mostly in live bird markets or when slaughtering birds at home. According to WHO, no sustained human-to-human transmission has occurred so far. Genetic analysis by FAO reference centers has revealed that the virus has not changed significantly since its emergence last year.
“Chinese authorities are enforcing important measures to reduce the risk of human exposure to the A(H7N9) virus,” said FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth. “This includes temporary closures of live bird markets, regular market rest days, improved hygiene in markets, heightened and ongoing surveillance in poultry and live bird market environment, and control of poultry movements.”
In South and South-East Asia, FAO, with strong support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has assisted countries with the implementation of animal and environmental surveillance at live bird markets and on farms since June last year. FAO supported projects are also underway to assist some countries in Africa to prevent and be prepared for facing threats from avian influenza viruses, including A(H7N9).