China to maintain 'high alert' on bird flu

CHINA - Premier Li Keqiang on Sunday urged the nation to remain on high alert over the new strain of bird flu, to reduce the death rate.

The outbreak has killed at least 23 people.

Li also praised health workers for releasing information in a timely manner, saying this is vital to ease public fears.

Visiting the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing, the premier spoke highly of efforts scientists have made in studying H7N9 bird flu, with China the first to discover the genetic order of the virus on March 28.

"Within one month of finding the genetic order, we effectively controlled the disease, which means it is preventable and controllable," Li said, adding that there is no evidence to show the virus can be transmitted between humans.

He promised transparency of information, saying this will allow the public to know the truth and will relieve their fears.

Li also called staff at the Lushan county station of disease prevention and control in Sichuan province, to discuss disease prevention in quake-hit regions. Lushan was hit by the magnitude-7 earthquake on April 20, which has claimed at least 196 lives.

As of Sunday afternoon, the H7N9 strain had infected 123 people on the Chinese mainland since being detected in March.

In a study published online in The Lancet medical journal, Chinese scientists confirmed the H7N9 virus is transmitted to humans from chickens, confirming that up to now no evidence of human-to-human transmission has been found.

Last week, the World Health Organisation described the virus as "one of the most lethal", and said it is more easily transmitted than an earlier strain that has killed hundreds globally since 2003.

Of 82 cases detected as of April 17, the Shanghai Center for Disease Control and Prevention said on Saturday that in 76 per cent of the cases the patients have been exposed to chicken.

Jiangxi province reported two new cases of H7N9 bird flu on Sunday - an 80-year-old man who raised poultry, and a 31-year-old woman who was exposed to poultry.

Hunan province reported its first case of H7N9 on Saturday. The patient, a 64-year-old woman from Shaoyang city, developed a fever on April 14, four days after having contact with poultry. Her condition has improved after treatment, Xinhua News Agency reported on Saturday.

None of the 41 people who came into contact with the newly confirmed Hunan patient have shown symptoms, according to Xinhua.

A 54-year-old man who fell ill in Jiangxi province is also being treated in Hunan, where he was diagnosed with H7N9 bird flu, the news agency said.

As of Sunday afternoon, bird flu cases had been detected in Hunan, Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Jiangsu, Henan, Shandong, Shanghai, Beijing and Anhui.

Last week, a man in Taiwan became the first case of the flu found outside the Chinese mainland. He contracted the virus while traveling on the mainland.

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