Chinese authorities said yesterday they had stepped up monitoring at poultry markets and closed down some sellers of live birds after a woman in Beijing died of bird flu.
The death on Monday of the 19-year-old was China’s first in nearly a year, highlighting the heightened risk of the deadly and highly contagious H5N1 strain of the virus during the winter, when it is most virulent.
Authorities in neighboring Hebei Province disinfected the market where the woman, Huang Yanqing, on Dec. 19 reportedly bought nine ducks suspected of being the source of her infection, Xinhua news agency reported.
Four live poultry sellers where shut down, it added.
Authorities in Sanhe city, where the market was located, have also examined 15 people involved in the poultry trade, inspected farms and checked on all local cases of fever, the city government said in a statement.
“So far, nothing unusual has been found,” the statement said.
Huang, who lived in Beijing, apparently contracted the disease on Dec. 24 after cleaning the internal organs of the ducks.
Contact with infected poultry or surfaces and objects contaminated by their feces is considered the main route of human infection, according to the WHO.
Beijing also ordered stepped-up monitoring of the live poultry trade in the Chinese capital, with experts launching inspections at slaughterhouses and poultry farms, a city government statement said.
Xinhua reported earlier that 116 people — 14 of Huang’s relatives and 102 medical workers — had come in contact with her and that one, a nurse, had contracted a fever but subsequently recovered.
Huang’s death was the first in China since a woman died of the disease in the south of the country last February.
The WHO said on Tuesday there was no immediate fear of a wider outbreak.
Authorities in Vietnam announced on Tuesday an eight-year-old girl had tested positive for H5N1 in the north of the country.
H5N1 bird flu has now killed 248 people since it re-appeared in Asia in 2003, according to the WHO. Twenty-one of the deaths have been in China.
Scientists fear the virus could eventually mutate into a form more easily transmissible between humans, triggering a global pandemic.
“We are concerned by any case of human H5N1 infection, however, this single case, which appears to have occurred during the slaughtering and preparation of poultry, does not change our risk assessment,” the WHO said in a statement.
“WHO expects the ministry will continue to keep it updated on this case, and is prepared to offer technical assistance if requested,” it added, referring to the Health Ministry.
The virus is generally more active during the cooler months between October and March, although the new Chinese case points to holes in surveillance of the virus in poultry.
Chinese Health Ministry spokesman Mao Qun’an (毛群安) was quoted in state media as saying the government would step up monitoring.
“This year we must, on the basis of what we have done in the past, increase monitoring for the transmission of the highly pathogenic bird flu virus in humans,” Mao said.
In Beijing, workers fanned out to inspect poultry markets and slaughterhouses in the capital city after the government issued a bird flu alert, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Paul Chan (陳基湘), a microbiologist at the Chinese University in Hong Kong, said it was worrying that this case was not accompanied by the detection of the virus in poultry nearby.