By Billy Dehao Chen

At the start of the ‘Rooster’ new year in Guangzhou, 30 percent of live poultry markets were recently found to be contaminated with H7N9 bird flu, according to Guangzhou Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s report.

Though Guangzhou pledged to suspend the trade of live and slaughtered poultry for three-day periods every month to prevent the spread of the virus, the flu has surfaced anyway, with at least 130 cases of human infection reported across the mainland so far this year, resulting in 24 deaths.

Authorities have begun closing poultry markets in other provinces in Mainland China, but many in Guangdong province remain open at this point. So far, no human-to-human transmission has been confirmed.

Ni daxin, a top official in the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, was quoted on Thursday by the state-run China Daily as saying the common Southern Chinese preference for live or freshly-slaughtered chickens was contributing to the spread of the disease, and if the public only buys frozen poultry, the epidemic will be easier to control.

On the popular Chinese social-networking platform Weibo, many users expressed concern over the virus and paranoia over common-cold symptoms, while others said they were swearing off chicken.

Other bird flu outbreaks due to H5N1 influenza virus have became a great concern in global public health. Generally, influenza has raised alarming concern for public health worldwide. A number of flus happen in human history and numerous lives are lost. Although the influenza viruses cause sporadic infections and seasonal epidemics, we should watch for early warnings to potential pandemics when novel flu strains with sufficient transmissibility emerge.

The flu virus is spread through close contact with the animal and environment: the transmission is from avian to human by contacting disease poultry and bird waste, and visiting live poultry markets increased risk of infection. Human to human transmission is inefficient and non-sustainable.

To avoid future outbreaks:

(1) Avoid contact with ill birds (poultry are thought to be the immediate source of the zoonotic infection reported in humans)

(2) Vaccination.

(3) Post-exposure chemoprophylaxis: oseltamivoir is recommended.

(4) Surveillance and Prediction: the reassortment of the ‘H’ and ‘N’ happens usually, so environmental surveillance in the place where poultry exists is significant to find the new virus type.

(5) For prevention: In the Cantonese diet, we prefer eating fresh chicken bought from the Live Poultry Market (LPMs). However, human infection is linked to exposure to poultry or to the environment where poultry are present, so closure of LPMs has had a measurable effect on controlling the spread of infection.