News 24 May, 2013

China - Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)

Translations: Chinese Chinese Vietnamese Vietnamese 

Members will be aware that following the H5N1 pandemic which claimed 332 lives, another strain of avian influenza (or “bird flu”) has been identified in China which may be contracted by humans. The new virus is known as H7N9.

In eastern China, over 130 cases and 36 deaths have been reported by the provinces of Anhui, Fujian, Henan, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Shandong, and Zhejiang. Infected patients have developed severe pneumonia accompanied by fever, coughing and shortness of breath. Although older persons and those with weak immune systems appear to be more susceptible to the H7N9 virus, younger people have also been affected.

All reports of H7N9 have been confined to China apart from one case in Taiwan involving a traveller who had returned from Jiangsu Province two weeks earlier.

Many of the confirmed cases of H7N9 have involved persons who had been in direct contact with live poultry or other animals, or had been exposed to such an environment. However, following more stringent restrictions imposed on open-air bird markets by the Chinese authorities, the number of reported cases now appears to be slowing down. Scientists have found no evidence of human to human transmission at this stage.

The World Health Organisation states that meat from the affected areas may be consumed safely provided that it is properly handled and cooked, ensuring that the meat reaches a temperature of at least 70ºC throughout. Meat which is still pink in places after being cooked, raw meat products, uncooked blood-based dishes, raw eggs and soft-boiled eggs should not be eaten.  

Particular care should be taken to observe good food hygiene standards, ensuring that raw meat does not come into contact with ready to eat products. Similarly, knives and chopping boards used to prepare raw meat should be kept away from other foods, and hands should be washed thoroughly afterwards. 

Crewmembers going ashore at Chinese ports are advised not to eat meat products, particularly poultry, at establishments where food handling and cooking standards may be uncertain. Similarly, visits to markets selling live birds or animals should be avoided.

Further information on the present situation can be found on the China Daily News website page Fighting Against H7N9 Bird Flu and on the World Health Organisation (WHO) website.

Members requiring further advice should contact the Loss Prevention department.