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Bird flu deaths 'no connection' with pigs

(Shanghai Daily)

08:33, April 02, 2013

NO bird flu virus was found in dead pig samples from the Huangpu River that provides drinking water to residents in Shanghai where two men died in the first human infections of a new avian influenza strain, the city government said yesterday.

The two patients, 87 and 27 years old, became ill with fever and coughs in late February and died in early March, suffering from severe pneumonia and difficulty in breathing.

The two were confirmed to be infected with H7N9 avian influenzas.

Yesterday, the Shanghai Animal Disease Prevention and Control Center tested 34 samples of pig carcasses pulled from the Huangpu River and found no bird flu viruses, the city government said in a statement.

Microbloggers had aired suspicions the bird flu cases were related to the thousands of pig carcasses recently retrieved from the river.

Dr Lu Hongzhou, vice president of Shanghai Public Health Center and a leading infectious disease expert, said the pigs died in neighboring Zhejiang Province, where no H7N9 bird flu cases had been detected.

"Bird flu virus can mutate and cause new subtypes, but it has no connection with a pig disease or porcine circovirus," he said.

Meanwhile, the city government is to step up the monitoring of flu and pneumonia cases following the deaths.

However, the World Health Organization says there is no evidence the H7N9 virus which killed the men can be transmitted between people.

Shanghai health officials said hospitals reported 24,000 flu-like cases in the first three months of this year, 43.28 percent fewer than in the same period of last year.

No hospital, flu laboratories or fever clinic in the city detected cases of SARS, human infection with the H5N1 bird flu virus or a new SARS-like corona virus in patients with unexplained pneumonia between November 15 and March 31 this year.

From January 1 to March 29, 130 hospitals with fever clinics reported that the number of patients with both fever and lung infections dropped by 4.34 percent from the same period of last year, the city government said.

A woman in Anhui Province also contracted the H7N9 virus in early March and is in critical condition.

"At this point, these three are isolated cases with no evidence of human-to-human transmission," the WHO's representative in China, Dr Michael O'Leary, told a news briefing in Beijing.

"A new virus tends to be more virulent in the beginning. Either it is going to become a truly human virus, in which case we have to start dealing with it regularly, or it is going to be primarily an animal virus with just a rare human case," O'Leary said.

There had been some complains that the authorities took too long before announcing the deaths on Sunday. O'Leary said the government acted properly as the deaths needed to be investigated, Reuters reported.

"China actually for a long time has been reporting promptly and openly. I think SARS was a turning point globally for that sort of thing," he said, referring to the 2003 epidemic where official numbers of cases were later dramatically revised upwards.

People buying poultry at a Shanghai market yesterday said that they hoped the government would be quicker to report new bird flu cases.

"In the future, no matter what it is, the government should make it public quickly and let the people know early. That way they can prevent it themselves", said shopper Zhang Zhili, 60.

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