Officials monitoring new strain of avian influenza

ChickenHeads_closeup_blogA new strain of avian influenza has sickened several people in China and led to the stoppage of Chinese chicken imports into Vietnam.

Three people in the Jiangsu province are “critically ill” with the H7N9 strain of the virus. Prior to the confirmation of the virus in Jiangsu, three people were diagnosed with the virus in Anhui and Shanghai, two of whom died, The Wall Street Journal reports.

A third man who was infected with the virus also died, officials announced today. In total, there are nine confirmed cases in China.

The four new cases involve people from different cities. Only one of the patients is known to have been in contact with poultry – a 45-year-old woman who works as a poultry butcher, according to The Poultry Site.

Authorities have stepped up monitoring programs and plans to deal with outbreaks, including additional testing of those who present with pneumonia and the designation of treatment centers in Jiangsu.

The virus has sparked concerns over its potential spread throughout the region. Vietnam imposed an immediate ban on all Chinese poultry imports and increased monitoring at its northern border. The government also culled “thousands” of chickens that had been smuggled over the border, WSJ reports.

Thailand also is closely monitoring the situation. Officials there have been instructed to examine droppings and carcasses of migrant birds and to restrict poultry imports, according to Bernama, the national news agency of Malaysia.

So far, the strain seems to be less virulent than the H1N1 strain of the virus, which has killed 371 people globally. It first became a concern in 2003 among those who had contact with infected birds.

Officials are working to find out if the H7N9 virus can be transmitted from person-to-person or only animal-to-person.

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