China Jan. bird flu deaths hit 79, most since at least 2013

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Health officers in protective clothing cull poultry at a wholesale market, as trade in live poultry suspended after a spot check at a local street market revealed the presence of H7N9 bird flu virus, in Hong Kong June 7, 2016.

The official Xinhua News Agency said the market closures this time have "greatly reduced the number of new infections in many regions", citing Ni Daxin, deputy director of the emergency response center at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Beijing on Saturday reported its first human H7N9 case this year.

Hospital staff treats an H7N9 bird flu patient on Sunday in Wuhan, in central China's Hubei province.

Southwest China's Yunnan Province has reported another death from the H7N9 strain of bird flu.

Shu Yuelong, head of the Chinese National Influenza Center, said the virus has so far shown no mutations that would enable a sustained human spread. Patient ages range from 22 to 85 years, and investigations so far reveal that 25 patients had been exposed to poultry or live-poultry markets before they became ill.

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According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), China recorded 109 infections of A/H7N9 virus in January, raising the total number of A/H7N9 cases in the country since the first case was detected in February 2013 to 1,174, with 417 fatalities.

The virus spreads to humans through exposure to infected birds or contaminated environments like poultry markets.

The People's Daily, the official paper of the ruling Communist Party, warned people in a social media post to stay away from live poultry markets, saying it was "extremely clear" that poultry and their excrement were the cause of the infections. These live poultry markets accounts for over a third of the chicken meat sales in the country in the previous year.

"As scientists, we should be watching this outbreak and the effectiveness of any control measures", said Ian Mackay, a virologist and associate professor at the University of Queensland in Australia. "The ultimate way out is to upgrade the industry, shifting to large-scale poultry farming and slaughtering".

While, with few visible signs of infection in birds, it's easier for farmers to flout the reporting rules and continue selling poultry at market, Stone at the OIE said China has a "very significant" surveillance program at live markets.

The closing of live poultry markets has proved effective in slowing the spread of the virus, he said, adding that the public can also help by avoiding live poultry markets or handling live poultry or their droppings.

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