Shenzhen Finds H7N9 Flu Virus in Markets Near Hong Kong

More people risk being sporadically infected with bird flu in China’s southern province of Guangdong, the Chinese government said after finding the virus in live poultry markets.

The Guangdong province health authority examined 70 samples from 13 live poultry markets in Shenzhen city, it said in a statement yesterday. Three samples tested positive for the H7N9 avian influenza virus, it said.

Hong Kong has stepped up surveillance of travelers with fever after finding two cases of a new strain of bird flu that killed at least 45 people in China. The first case is a 36-year-old Indonesian woman who traveled to Shenzhen to buy and slaughter a chicken, and the second is an 80-year-old man who was hospitalized in the Chinese city last month before moving to Hong Kong.

“Visiting a live poultry market in Shenzhen was the likely source of infection for at least one of the two Hong Kong cases,” said Ben Cowling, an associate professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong’s school of public health. “It’s likely that H7N9 virus infection among poultry in live markets may be more widespread in Shenzhen.”

Shenzhen is less than 30 miles from downtown Hong Kong, a popular day-trip destination for shopping and dining.

Chicken Feces

Samples that tested positive for the virus were found in two live poultry markets, the Guangdong health authority said. One sample came from chicken feces, one from a defeathering machine and the third from a chopping block, it said.

The 12 live poultry stalls at the Hengan Paibang market in Longgan district, one of the markets where authorities found a positive sample, were open today.

The stalls get their chickens from the Buji Poultry Wholesale Market in Longgan, according to the market’s manager.

“There’s been no order yet to shut down,” said Zhang Jinghui, manager of the Paibang market. “We need to wait for instructions from the village committee. We are disinfecting the stalls everyday.”

Huang Weihua, whose stall had samples tested positive for H7N9, said he sold two chickens today, down from 30 to 40 daily.

About 30 chickens, ducks, pigeons and geese were stored in metal cages at his stall, next to a shed for slaughtering the poultry and a metal-spinning vat for defeathering.

Public Concern

There were no live chickens in sight at the Kangqiao market, the other one with the positive sample. The stalls that sell live poultry would be shut down for three days, said Wang Xiaohua, the market manager.

“We were told by the Industrial and Commerce Department to shut down for a while, make sure everything is clean because there’s a lot of public concern about bird flu,” ’’ said Wang.

He said all poultry from the stall has been taken away for testing.

The novel avian influenza strain is often lethal to humans, though it doesn’t transmit easily from person to person.

Human cases of H7N9 in China date to February and surged in April, before agriculture authorities temporarily closed live poultry markets and quarantined farms to limit exposure. The WHO counted 139 laboratory-confirmed cases as of Nov. 6.

“We know from patterns in other influenza viruses that transmission tends to increase during the winter months when the weather is cooler,” said Cowling. “If H7N9 follows this pattern, then we only expect an increase in H7N9 transmission in the coming one or two months, particularly around Chinese New Year.”

Chinese New Year is on Jan. 31.

Last year, Hong Kong residents departed from the Lo Wu checkpoint 35.4 million times, according to the census and statistics department. The city had 7.2 million people in mid-2013, according to a government estimate.

— With assistance by Bonnie Cao, Natasha Khan, and Daryl Loo

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.