More H7N9 cases reported in China as holiday prompts warning

Incense sticks at Chinese graveside

One of China's Qingming Festival traditions involves honoring ancestors with tributes, such as the burning of joss (incense) sticks at grave sites., snoofek / iStockphoto

Two more H7N9 infections were reported today in two of China's provinces, continuing a slow but steady trickle of cases that could increase along with poultry market sales and travel related to the upcoming Qingming Festival, a global animal health agency warned.

One of the cases involves a 37-year-old man from Guangdong province who is hospitalized in stable condition in Shenzhen, according to a health department statement translated and posted by FluTrackers, an infectious disease news message board.

The other illness was reported by Anhui province and involves a 30-year-old man who is hospitalized in Hefei, according to a health department statement flagged by FluTrackers.

The new cases nudge the outbreak total to 409, based on a running list of lab-confirmed illnesses kept by FluTrackers. So far 273 illnesses have been reported during the outbreak's second wave, compared with 136 in the first.

WHO confirms three more cases

In a related development, the World Health Organization (WHO) released additional details about three H7N9 reports from three different provinces that it received from China on Mar 31. The WHO statement covers case-patients in Jiangsu, Fujian, and Hunan provinces.

Two of the patients had been exposed to poultry before getting sick. Illness onsets ranged from Mar 17 to Mar 23.

All three patients are men: a 35-year-old from Jiangsu who is in critical condition, a 72-year-old from Fujian who is in severe condition, and a 65-year-old from Hunan who is also listed in severe condition.

FAO urges vigilance during holiday

Meanwhile, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today urged people to stay vigilant in light of the Qingming Festival on Apr 5, an observance that is celebrated in China and some of its neighbors. The holiday, a family event that honors ancestors, lasts for about 3 days and involves increases in poultry purchases, slaughter, and consumption. Also, people in the region often travel back to their hometowns to visit family.

The FAO said that although H7N9 doesn't have a high news profile in recent weeks, caution is still needed, given increasing evidence that the virus continues to circulate in China's poultry. The agency also commented that human infections are fatal in more than 30% of patients.

Though the winter flu season is winding down and the number of human H7N9 illnesses continues to decline, the record of illnesses last spring, when the virus first emerged in people, shows that human illnesses continued to occur, even after the Qingming festival, the FAO said.

The agency highlighted the recent first detection of H7N9 on a poultry farm, which occurred on Mar 18 in Zhuhai. It said timely identification of the virus at farms is challenged not only by its silent circulation, but also by difficulties tracing the virus from positive bird markets to the farms that sourced them.

Farms in high-risk areas, like poultry markets, should be routinely monitored, the FAO said. "The spread of the virus in poultry populations will be facilitated in areas where poultry density is high and trade networks are extensive."

See also:

Apr 3 FluTrackers thread

FluTrackers human H7N9 case list

Apr 3 WHO statement

Apr 3 FAO statement

This week's top reads