Bird-flu deaths rise in China, shutting markets

BEIJING (AFP) – China is experiencing its deadliest outbreak of the H7N9 bird-flu strain since it first appeared in humans in 2013, killing 79 people in January alone and spurring several cities to suspend live poultry trade.

The National Health and Family Planning Commission said on Wednesday that by the end of January a total of 100 people had died in the current bird flu season, which commonly emerges in winter and continues into the spring.

The 79 deaths in China last month compared to just five in January 2016, according to the commission.

The surge in fatalities has raised concerns that a severe outbreak looms, though health officials have said the worst has likely passed.

An H7N9 bird flu patient gets treated in a hospital in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei province. - AFP
An H7N9 bird flu patient gets treated in a hospital in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei province. – AFP

H7N9, a subtype of influenza that affects both birds and humans, was first discovered in China in 2013.

Most infected patients become severely ill, and nearly one in three cases are fatal.

The government is urging people to avoid live poultry markets, where poor sanitation conditions can raise the risk of contamination.