ROME, March 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Countries
trading in Chinese poultry should step up surveillance at farms,
markets and border checkpoints to prevent the spread of H7N9
bird flu from China after a more severe strain of the virus was
detected in chickens, a U.N. agency said on Friday.
H7N9 has killed almost 500 people in China since it was
first reported in 2013 but until recently had shown little or no
clinical symptoms in birds, according to the U.N. Food and
Agriculture Organization (FAO).
But in February Beijing reported it detected an evolution in
the virus that caused severe disease and death in poultry within
48 hours of infection.
"It now goes beyond being primarily a public health
concern," said FAO's veterinary epidemiologist Sophie von
Dobschuetz, adding the new strain heightened the risk for
farmers to lose animals and livelihoods.
The highly pathogenic variant has only been reported in
China's southeastern Guangdong province and will become more
apparent in some flocks if birds begin to die off, making
detection and control easier, FAO said.
"The earlier you pick up the incursion of the virus the more
chance you have to control it," von Dobschuetz told the Thomson
Reuters Foundation by phone.
The new strain has raised concerns that the infection could
pass from chickens to other birds, increasing the risk of it
spreading across borders, the FAO said in joint statement with
the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
The FAO said the new H7N9 strain maintained its capacity to
cause severe illness in people, but the World Health
Organization said there was no evidence of changes in the virus'
ability to spread between humans.
Von Dobschuetz said China was assessing the virus'
prevalence and results were expected in the coming weeks.
Since the virus was first identified in 2013, 1,320 human
cases have been recorded in China, including 492 deaths,
according to FAO figures.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Ros
Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate
change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)