Authorities are closing live poultry markets in multiple Chinese cities and provinces, in an effort to stop the spread of the deadly H7N9 strain of the avian flu virus.
“Officials in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou – population 17 million – found more than 30 percent of the city’s poultry markets are contaminated with the H7N9 strain of bird flu,” as NPR’s Rob Schmitz reports from Shanghai.
The large city is a “major transportation hub for migrant workers,” according to the South China Morning Post, raising fears of further spread of the deadly strain.
China has seen an uptick of cases of H7N9. “State media has reported 130 human cases of bird flu in January, resulting in 24 deaths,” Rob says.
In Sichuan province, authorities say they have closed “280 live poultry trading and slaughtering venues in Suining city,” according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. It adds that authorities have also halted poultry live trading in Zhejiang province since Saturday evening.
Additionally, authorities have suspended live poultry markets in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, according to Xinhua. Five people in the province have died as a result of the virus this year.
“And on Saturday, officials in Beijing confirmed the city’s first human case of bird flu this year,” Rob added.
H7N9 is a virus that typically infects birds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Chinese authorities reported the first cases of the strain in humans in spring 2013. Since then, more than 900 confirmed cases have been reported.
The virus spreads to humans through exposure to infected birds or contaminated environments like poultry markets. The CDC says “in rare cases, limited, non-sustained person-to-person spread of H7N9 virus likely occurred, but there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human infection.” There is no vaccine to guard against H7N9.
Previous years have also seen spikes in avian influenza in December and January, according to The World Health Organization.
South Korea and Japan are also fighting “major outbreaks” of different strains of bird flu, according to Reuters.