China Bird Flu: New Deaths, 10 Arrests For Spreading Rumors

The China bird flu outbreak continues to pick up steam, as the state-run media confirmed Wednesday that a total of nine people have now died from the H7N9 flu virus, previously not known to infect humans. Although estimates vary, there are around 30 confirmed cases, with some patients critically ill. 13 of the cases, and five of the deaths, were in Shanghai, the world’s largest city.

In an effort to control the spread of the H7N9 bird flu virus, China’s health ministry has closed the Shanghai live bird markets — a ban that they have considered making permanent because of the large size of the population. They have now also slaughtered over 100,000 potentially infected birds, including pigeons, ducks, and chickens, as part of their attempt to control a potential reservoir of infection.

On Monday, China Daily reported a chilling description of how the avian flu had silenced the song in Shanghai’s once thriving Wanshang flower and bird market.

Shanghai’s Racing Pigeon Association has also cancelled all races to prevent inadvertently spreading the H7N9 virus, which can reportedly be carried in some healthy birds.

The Chinese authorities announced that they had arrested at least 10 people in six provinces that they accused of spreading rumors or posting false information online about new bird flu cases.

Some people in China still remember that the government had tried to hide the 2002 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed about 10 percent of its 8,000 victims. As a result, some Chinese locals are suspicious of the real motives behind the arrests.

There is still no evidence of human-to-human transmission, but World Health Organization officials are investigating two possible family clusters of the disease. Even if multiple family members do have the H7N9 virus, it could be that they caught it by handling or eating the same bird, rather than from another person.

A few days ago, Shanghai health officials said that DNA analysis of the infected humans matched a flu strain found in market pigeons. However, in the Wednesday briefing, the Chinese-run media source Xinhua said that the China bird flu had now been traced to chickens and wild birds.

[feral pigeon photo Laura Hadden via flickr and Creative Commons]