China's bird-watchers undaunted by H7N9 virus

BEIJING - Bird-watching activities are continuing in Beijing even as Chinese and overseas scientists suggested the H7N9 bird flu virus currently affecting people in the country was one of the most lethal that doctors and medical investigators had faced in recent years.

Animal surveillance officials have found the virus in live poultry at poultry markets and, notably, a wild pigeon, the Ministry of Agriculture said.

The poultry business has been seriously undermined by the epidemic, whose source of infection and transmission modes remained unclear.

However, bird-watching activities appear to be as popular as before.

"Bird-watching activities are not affected, which are still held every weekend in Beijing as usual," said Guan Xueyan, director of BirdWatch China.

About 20 people usually take part in bigger activities out of downtown Beijing. "We don't have close contact with the birds while bird-watching," she told China Daily during a bird-watching trip on Saturday.

However, because of health concerns, bird-watchers are warned not to touch dead birds and to report them to agriculture officials, she added.

Allen Zhu, a Chinese-Canadian computer engineer, who has been bird-watching for four years, said: "I know about the H7N9 thing, but I don't think it's a serious matter. I live near a national forest park in Beijing and went around there to watch birds as well".

He learned about bird-watching over the Internet and has never hesitated to participate.

Mu Titi, a landscape architecture major at Beijing Forestry University and a first-time bird-watcher, said: "We are far away from those birds, and we are not going to touch them. The current H7N9 infections are not that serious to me.

"We got through SARS, which was very serious, and which could spread easily among humans. We certainly will be OK with the H7N9 bird flu now. I eat chicken, as normal, too," she said.

David Zuo, who works in investment in Beijing, agreed. He has up to four years of bird-watching experience.

"The panic usually results from ignorance," he said.

"We don't have close contact with the birds, and we don't disturb them. If some are going to be infected, it will be those who catch and kill the birds."

Bird flu is no new issue among birds, said Bao Weidong, an associate professor at Beijing Forestry University.

"We have an epidemic monitoring system of wild animals across the country, and any abnormalities would be reported regularly to forestry authorities," he said.

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