February 15, 2017 / 2:15 AM / 6 months ago

China death toll from bird flu soars to 79 in Jan -govt

BEIJING, Feb 15 (Reuters) - China reported as many as 79 fatalities from H7N9 bird flu in January, the government said, far surpassing the number of deaths in recent years and stoking fears about the spread of the deadly virus among the population this winter.

The news released by the National Health and Family Planning Commission late on Tuesday brings the death toll since October to 100. January's total far surpasses numbers for January over the past three years, which ranged between 20 and 31.

Some 192 people were infected last month, the commission said, bringing the total since October to 306.

The latest data will reinforce concerns about the spread of the virus among humans as neighbouring South Korea and Japan also battle major outbreaks among their poultry flocks.

Chinese disease control experts have warned the public to stay alert for H7N9 avian flu. The virus usually strikes in winter and spring, and farmers have in recent years ramped up measures such as cleaning regimes to prevent the disease.

Many major cities in the world's third-largest producer of broiler chickens and the second-biggest consumer of poultry have also closed some live poultry markets after people and chickens were infected by avian flu strains.

China has confirmed five bird flu outbreaks among poultry this winter, which has led to the culling of more than 175,000 birds.

Widespread infection can lead to severe health risks and big financial losses. The last major outbreak in China was in 2013, causing more than $6 billion in losses for the agricultural sector.

Reporting by Josephine Mason; Editing by Randy Fabi

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