Four animals being eaten into extinction by gourmets in China and around the world

https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/article/2153833/four-animals-being-eaten-extinction-gourmets-china-and-around-world

Throughout history humans have wiped out animal populations. Have we learned from our mistakes? It seems not, with creatures from a songbird to pangolins and bluefin tuna now facing extinction by way of the dinner table

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 10:32am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 10:32am

A 225kg, two-metre flightless Australian bird, the Genyornis newtoni, was eaten to extinction 50,000 years ago. “We consider this the first and only secure evidence that humans were directly preying on now-extinct Australian megafauna,” says Gifford Miller, the associate director of CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. “We have documented these characteristically burned Genyornis eggshells at more than 200 sites across the continent.”

The majority of Australia’s megafauna, including a two-tonne wombat and 500kg kangaroo, also disappeared soon after the arrival of humans.

We all know about the dodo, the flightless bird with no natural predators that was discovered on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius in 1507 and was extinct by 1681. Sailors hunted them for meat or indiscriminately killed them, and rats ate their eggs.

Steller’s sea cow was discovered in the Bering Sea in 1741 and gone by 1768. They were enormous, docile, manatee-like marine creatures that couldn’t submerge, and they fell victim to seal hunters.

Passenger pigeons were once numbered in the billions in North America, and their migrating flocks would darken the sky for days. Enter the European settlers, and the birds were totally gone by the early 1900s.

Have we learned from our mistakes? Has hindsight helped prevent humans from eating endangered species?

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of endangered species, 1,414 species of fish, or 5 per cent of the world’s known species, are at risk of extinction. A study on bushmeat has shown that 301 mammals are at risk from hunting. This includes 168 primates, 73 hoofed animals, 27 bats and 12 carnivores. There are also 21 rodents and 26 marsupials on the list.

China is moving from being the world’s biggest producer to being the world’s biggest consumer, and its appetite for exotic foods is unmatched. The yellow-breasted bunting is being driven to extinction because diners in southern China refuse to stop eating the songbird, despite the threat of large fines. Locals believe eating it can boost sexual vitality and detoxify their bodies. It was put on the endangered list, but this has done nothing to stop its numbers falling drastically.

Here are four other species that are facing extinction by way of the dinner table.

1. Pangolin

Pangolins are nocturnal mammals that eat ants and termites. They are the only mammals with keratin scales and they can emit a harmful chemical similar to a skunk. All eight species of pangolin are threatened with extinction. Four are vulnerable, two are endangered and two are critically endangered.

In Africa they are hunted for food and traditional medicine. Unfortunately, they are also a delicacy in southern China and Vietnam. There’s an unfounded belief in East Asia that ground-up pangolin scales can stimulate lactation, cure cancer and asthma.

It is believed that more than one million pangolins have been illegally trafficked in the past year, making it the world’s most trafficked animal.

All pangolin species are protected and there is an international ban on trade. This rarity, sadly, only pushes the price up, and the continued illegal trade is annihilating their numbers.

2. Bluefin tuna

Perfectly evolved as a predator, the bluefin is one of the fastest fish in the ocean and can hit speeds of more than 60 kilometres per hour when hunting. The Atlantic bluefin grows up to 4.6 metres long and weighs up to 680kg. Bluefin species range from vulnerable to critically endangered. The increase in demand for sushi and sashimi has resulted in rampant overfishing, and despite international agreements and convention, its numbers are dropping.

The fish is being farmed to alleviate the pressure, but bluefin tuna grow very slowly, so large fish fetch very high prizes, especially in Japan. Because tuna migrate over long distances and hunt in the mid ocean, they aren’t protected by countries’ exclusive economic zones and fishing quotas.

3. Chinese giant salamander

It grows to nearly two metres and weighs up to 50kg, and is the largest amphibian on the planet. It is (yes, you guessed it) considered a delicacy in China and is being used (yes, again) in traditional Chinese medicine. Its family can be seen in fossil records going back more than 170 million years, but today it is critically endangered.

The population has declined by 80 per cent over three generations.

It is heavily farmed in China – in 2011 there were reportedly 2.6 million salamanders in farms in Shaanxi province alone, compared with the wild population for the whole country of 50,000. Farming brings its own problems, including the spreading of viruses to the wild population and the pollution of rivers.

4. Sturgeon

Their fossil record dates back 200 million years to the Triassic era. During their time on earth, they have survived two, possibly three major events that wiped out a lot of the planet’s life.

Most species of sturgeon are at risk of extinction today. The Beluga sturgeon has been overfished for its eggs (caviar), which are considered a delicacy and command ridiculously high prices.

The emergence of China as a wealthy consumer could be the beginning of the end of the sturgeon. It has been projected by the China Sturgeon Association that China will consume 100 tonnes of caviar every year by 2020, accounting for one-third of the world’s total. China also produces one third of all the world’s caviar.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service banned the importation of Beluga caviar from the Caspian Sea in 2005. A year later the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species suspended all trade. The following year, the trade ban was partially lifted. The fish is listed as critically endangered. It takes 20 years to reach maturity, and harvesting the eggs necessitates killing the fish.

Also see:

https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/article/2153735/chinese-diners-are-eating-yellow-breasted-bunting-rare-songbird-extinction

 

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The Chinese diners eating a rare songbird into extinction, and the conservationists fighting to save the yellow-breasted bunting

https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/article/2153735/chinese-diners-are-eating-yellow-breasted-bunting-rare-songbird-extinction

Known as the rice bird in southern China, where it is a luxury sought after by gourmets, the previously common yellow-breasted bunting was last year listed as critically endangered. Experts blame its rapid decline on illegal trade

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 8:15am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 5:59pm

A once common songbird, the yellow-breasted bunting was listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature late last year. Shockingly, only 14 years ago it had still been categorised as a “species of least concern”.

The population is estimated to have plummeted by 90 per cent since 1980, and experts suspect the reason for the rapid decline in numbers of the bird, once seen widely in Hong Kong, is its popularity as a delicacy among diners in southern China.

Efforts by the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, and an international network of academics, environmentalists and bird watchers, may well prove crucial in saving the migratory species from extinction.

Its traditional range covers a huge geographical area. Its breeding grounds are spread across northern Russia, as far east as Japan and, until recently, as far west as Finland. Each year, it migrates south through China. Some stay in the country for the winter, while others journey on to Southeast Asia.

“Currently, we have little idea precisely where the yellow-breasted buntings go,” says Wieland Heim, an expert in bird migration ecology at the University of Münster in Germany. “Pinpointing exact locations and mapping migration routes will help analyse the causes of this extreme decline.”

In a bid to save the bird, Heim and a team of volunteers travel annually to wetlands in Muravioka Park, in the far east of Russia, to monitor the yellow-breasted buntings breeding.

“Myriads of mosquitoes, man-made fires, and floating bogs make the visits challenging,” Heim says. “To reach the birds we have to cross the moving bogs. It’s easy to fall underneath. Things are worse in July when the ice beneath melts, leaving the bogs afloat on water around 1.5 metres deep.”

Last year, the team attached geolocating devices to three yellow-breasted buntings, helping to provide a clearer picture of their movements. The yet-to-be published research reveals a migration route over China and on to Myanmar, where the birds waited out the harsh northern winter.

“This year we will fit more geolocators to further breeding populations and analyse land-use changes in the locations along these birds’ migratory routes. This should help us explain, then hopefully stop, the decline,” Heim says.

When the first crop of rice was first planted in [Hong Kong’s] rejuvenated [Long Valley] in 2009, 11 yellow-breasted buntings visited the area. Numbers have crept up and now we see around 20 a year
YEUNG LEE-KI

“They spend about three months in China, settling on the ground to moult in areas where illegal trapping is known to occur,” he adds. It is this trapping that is thought to be the major cause of the rapid fall in the bird’s numbers.

“The yellow-breasted bunting is often caught in the north of China,” explains Fu Wing-kan, assistant manager of the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society’s China Programme. “The birds are killed, plucked, frozen and then transported by road or rail to the south to be sold as a delicacy.”

Consumer demand is fed by the belief that eating the yellow-breasted bunting bestows medicinal benefits and is nourishing, like “ginseng in heaven”, Fu says. Dining on the endangered bird is also said to be something of a status symbol.

“With no mention on restaurant menus, the trade operates undercover. Customers place orders in advance. Birds are then delivered from off-site storehouses,” Fu adds.

It wasn’t always such a secretive activity. Quoting earlier research from the University of Münster, Fu recalls how, in the early 1990s, Sanshui city in China’s Guangdong province held an annual food festival where diners eagerly consumed hundreds of thousands of yellow-breasted buntings. Then, in 1997, the Chinese government made trapping the birds illegal.

“Today, China’s revised Wildlife Protection Act outlaws hunting, selling and consuming wild animals without a permit. The yellow-breasted bunting is protected as a species of significant ecological, scientific and social value,” Fu says.

However, trade in the species is known to have continued into the new millennium. Additionally, Beijing-based bird watcher and blogger Terry Townsend reported last year that yellow-breasted buntings were being offered for sale on the Chinese e-commerce website Taobao.

“For between HK$135 [US$17] and HK$270 it was possible to buy a live yellow-breasted bunting. It’s likely this was for the caged bird trade, rather than consumption,” Townsend says. The birds are difficult to breed in captivity, he says, and he is certain the birds were caught in the wild.

After Townsend raised the alarm on his birdingbeijing.com website, a representative of Taobao’s parent, Alibaba Group (which also owns the South China Morning Post), got in touch to express the company’s concern and tell him that the offending posts had been removed.

“They said their procedures concerning spotting wild birds for sale were under review, and they would be happy for users to send them links to any posts of concern,” Townsend says.

As the little yellow and brown birds fly south, one of the destinations they visit for rest and recuperation is Hong Kong’s largest swathe of agricultural land, Long Valley. Here, near Sheung Shui in the northern New Territories, an innovative conservation project involving 28 local farmers is contributing to the species’ survival.

Entitled Nature Conservation for Management for Long Valley, and co-organised by the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society and The Conservancy Association, a charity, the project aims to ecologically manage and monitor the area, and provide education about its importance.

Working alongside five of the older farmers, project manager Yeung Lee-ki oversees Long Valley’s Eco-paddy Club. The farmers are able to take care of the rice paddy once it is planted, but find the initial planting and harvesting a considerable physical challenge. This is where the Eco-paddy Club comes in.

Members pay a small fee to help plant and harvest rice following the principles of organic farming. In exchange, “they learn about the growing process and receive a proportion of the crop at the season’s end”, Yeung explains. A hectare has been planted and the rice sells out each year, generating income to support the project.

“By promoting local agriculture, we hope to also provide habitat for the yellow-breasted bunting,” Yeung adds, because the rice paddies are a perfect habitat for the birds.

The project’s own data shows some ecological success. “When the first crop of rice was first planted in the rejuvenated valley in 2009, 11 yellow-breasted buntings visited the area. Numbers have crept up and now we see around 20 individuals a year,” Yeung says. “Long Valley now hosts over half of the bird species recorded in Hong Kong, and 42 per cent of our amphibians.”

The Long Valley project also involves tagging visiting yellow-breasted buntings with identity rings to support other researchers’ data in migratory patterns. Additionally, it is working closely with conservation groups in southern China to raise awareness of the bird’s plight, and encourage people to report illegal consumption and stop eating the buntings.

Yeung is hopeful for the future given that many conservationists have joined the initiative to save the bird. “We don’t want to see the species die out, and really hope our measures will save the yellow-breasted bunting,” she says.

The birds tagged by Heim’s team journeyed on to northern Myanmar to complete their winter migration. There, local environmentalists are equally concerned about the critically endangered species. Being hunted for food is, once again, blamed for the decline.

In Myanmar, too, information is lacking about the exact movements and habits of the birds once they settle in the country.

Thiri Dae We Aung, a representative of the country’s Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association, is proposing a comprehensive survey of yellow-breasted buntings starting this coming winter, and hopes to raise awareness of their plight in upcoming workshops.

Environmentalists along the length of the migratory bird’s flight path are battling to work out how to save the species as it teeters on the brink of extinction. Individuals and businesses can support them by refusing to buy the birds and to not facilitate the sale of them.

Hope lies with Hong Kong’s Eco-paddy project as a role model in providing lessons on what else can be done to safeguard the yellow-breasted bunting for generations to come.

This Strain of Bird Flu Kills One-Third of Patients

 

A bird flu that started in China five years ago has slowly started to spread. Some experts worry it could be this year’s “Disease X.”

https://www.healthline.com/health-news/this-strain-of-bird-flu-kills-one-third-of-patients#1

Getty Images

New fears are starting to grow as there’s a strain of bird flu that’s killed over one-third of those it infects. Some experts warn that it has the potential to be the next pandemic.

As of June 15, 1,625 people in China have become infected with this virus and 623 are now dead — a total of 38 percent.

Bird flu, or avian influenza, has multiple subtypes. But, two have become the most concerning.

One strain of the bird flu, identified as H7N9, was first detected in people in 2013 in China, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Before 2013, this strain hadn’t been seen in any other population except birds, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In the five years after the disease was found in humans, health officials have battled multiple outbreaks.

New H7N9 bird flu strain in China has pandemic potential-study

CHICAGO, Oct 19 (Reuters) – Lab experiments on a new strain of the H7N9 bird flu circulating in China suggest the virus can transmit easily among animals and can cause lethal disease, raising alarms that the virus has the potential for triggering a global human pandemic, researchers reported on Thursday.

The H7N9 virus has been circulating in China since 2013, causing severe disease in people exposed to infected poultry. Last year, however, human cases spiked, and the virus split into two distinct strains that are so different they no longer succumb to existing vaccines.

 One of these has also become highly pathogenic, meaning it has gained the ability to kill infected birds, posing a threat to agriculture markets.

U.S. and Japanese researchers studied a sample of this new highly pathogenic strain to see how well it spread among mammals, including ferrets, which are considered the best animal model for testing the transmissibility of influenza in humans.

In the study published in Cell Host & Microbe, flu expert Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin and colleagues tested a version of the new H7N9 strain taken from a person who died from their infection last spring.

They found that the virus replicated efficiently in mice, ferrets and non-human primates, and that it caused even more severe disease in mice and ferrets than a low pathogenic version of the same virus that does not cause illness in birds.

To test transmissibility, the team placed healthy ferrets next to infected animals and found the virus spread easily from cage to cage, suggesting the virus can be transmitted by respiratory droplets such as those produced by coughing and sneezing.

Two out of three healthy ferrets infected in this way died, which Kawaoka said is “extremely unusual,” suggesting that even a small amount of virus can cause severe disease.

“The work is very concerning in terms of the implications for what H7N9 might do in the days ahead in terms of human infection,” said Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert from the University of Minnesota.

Since 2013, the H7N9 bird flu virus has already sickened at least 1,562 people in China and killed at least 612. Some 40 percent of people hospitalized with the virus die.

In the first four epidemics, the virus showed few changes. But last flu season, there were some 764 cases – nearly half of the 1,562 total.

“The whole world is worried about it,” Osterholm said.

Deadly Bird Flu Rises Again in China Spreading in Newer Regions

Deadly Bird Flu Rises Again in China Spreading in Newer Regions

This previous year China had the biggest flare-up of a dangerous bird flu since the infection was first recognized in March 2013. For as long as five years, China had been flooding with virsues of H7N9 cases that took a toll around January and February.

Amid the 2017 season, the nation revealed almost the same number of cases as all four previous years’ together, analysts at the U.S. Communities for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Thursday. The infection surged up in more geographic districts as well. Apart this, it hinted at advancing in ways that cause concern. As NPR revealed in April, the infection has grabbed transformations that make it all the more dangerous in poultry and less vulnerable to antiviral therapeutics. According to what virologist Guan Yi told NPR, “Our exploration indicates it can kill every chicken in our lab within 24 hours”. H7N9 isn’t your common bird flu. H7N9 is “the flu infection with the most noteworthy potential pandemic hazard,” as the CDC writes in the journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. In individuals, H7N9 can cause a serious type of pneumonia and advance into septic shock and organ failures. Although the World Health Organization says, “We are aware of just few individuals who gave flu like side effects and after that recouped without therapeutic consideration”.

Non-contagious Nature to Prevent Flu from Spreading at Large Scale

Amid the 2017 episode, the Chinese government announced 759 instances of H7N9. There were 281 deaths — about 33% of those affected by it. By correlation in 2016 and 2015, the nation revealed 123 and 226 cases, separately. In spite of the fact that H7N9 can possibly develop in a worldwide risk, at this moment it has one serious constraint that confines its capability to spread: The infection doesn’t transmit effectively between individuals. Around 90 percent of individuals find the infection by taking care of poultry.

Deadly Bird Flu In China Evolves, Spreads To New Regions

A patient with the H7N9 avian flu is treated in a hospital in Wuhan, in central China’s Hubei province, in February of this year. The 2017 outbreak was the deadliest in China since H7N9 first appeared in humans in 2013.

AFP/Getty Images

This past year China had the largest outbreak of a deadly bird flu since the virus was first detected in March 2013.

For the past five years, China has had annual waves of H7N9 outbreaks that peak around January and February.

During the 2017 season, the country reported nearly the same number of cases as all four previous years combined, researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report Thursday. The virus cropped up in more geographic regions. And it showed signs of evolving in ways that cause concern.

As NPR reported in April, the virus has picked up mutations that make it more deadly in poultry and less susceptible to antiviral treatments. “Our research shows it can kill all the chickens in our lab within 24 hours,” virologist Guan Yi told NPR.

H7N9 isn’t your run-of-the-mill bird flu. H7N9 is “the influenza virus with the highest potential pandemic risk,” the CDC writes in the journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

In people, H7N9 can cause a severe form of pneumonia and progress into septic shock and multiorgan failure. “We know of only a small number of people who presented with influenza-like symptoms and then recovered without medical attention,” the World Health Organization says.

During the 2017 outbreak, the Chinese government reported 759 cases of H7N9. There were 281 deaths — about a third of those infected. By comparison in 2016 and 2015, the country reported 123 and 226 cases, respectively.

Although H7N9 has potential to evolve in a global threat, right now it has one severe limitation that restricts its potential to spread: The virus doesn’t transmit easily between people. About 90 percent of people catch the virus by handling poultry.

But person-to-person transmission is possible. During 2017, there were 14 clusters of cases in which a person passed the disease to at least one other person.

Since March 2013, there have been 1,557 cases of H7N9 reported worldwide. All infections were caught in China, Hong Kong or Macao. Nearly 40 percent of those infections were deadly.

Two Chinese cities close poultry markets after H7N9 bird flu infections

https://thehimalayantimes.com/health/two-chinese-cities-close-poultry-markets-h7n9-bird-flu-infections/

REUTERS

China will shut poultry markets in certain districts of two cities after H7N9 bird flu infections were detected, state media reported on Sunday, the latest incidents in this year’s more severe outbreak of the virus.

A 44-year-old man who sold poultry at a farmers market in southwestern Sichuan province’s Zigong city was diagnosed with H7N9, China News Service reported. Local authorities announced a one-month halt to poultry markets in the city’s Ziliujing district from midnight on Monday.

 

Separately, a 74-year old man who had visited poultry markets in Shandong province’s Binzhou city was also diagnosed with H7N9, China Central Television reported. Binzhou authorities will temporarily halt poultry markets in three of its districts.

Bird flu can jump from poultry to humans. Human cases of bird flu have been unusually high for China since last year, with three times more fatalities from H7N9 in the first four months of the year than in all of 2016. But deaths fell in April for the third consecutive month.


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In a victory for animal rights activists — and canines — China may have banned dog meat sales at festival

http://www.post-gazette.com/news/world/2017/05/19/In-a-victory-for-animal-rights-activists-and-canines-China-will-ban-dog-meat-sales-at-festival/stories/201705190136

BEIJING — Chinese authorities have banned dog meat sales at the country’s
notorious Yulin dog-eating festival, two U.S. nonprofit organizations
reported Wednesday in what animal rights advocates are calling a victory.

The annual festival in Yulin — a prefecture-level city in southwest China’s
Guangxi region — has in recent years emerged as a lightning rod for animal
rights activism, granting the sleepy city a degree of global infamy.
Activists say thousands of dogs — some of them abducted pets — are
slaughtered at the festival each year; they’re served alongside lychees and
grain alcohol to mark the summer solstice.

The Yulin government has banned the city’s dog meat vendors from selling
the meat for one week starting June 15, the U.S.-based Duo Duo Animal
Welfare Project and Humane Society International (HSI) said in a joint
statement, citing unidentified local contacts. The 10-day festival is
slated to begin June 21.

“Even if this is a temporary ban, we hope this will have a domino effect,
leading to the collapse of the dog meat trade,” Andrea Gung, executive
director of the Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project, said in the statement. “I
have visited Yulin many times in the last two years. This ban is consistent
with my experience that Yulin and the rest of the country are changing for
the better.”

The organizations attributed the change to Yulin’s new Communist Party
secretary, Mo Gongming, who reportedly wants to improve Yulin’s national
and international image. Penalties, they said, include a fine of up to
$14,500 and jail time.

While there have been previous attempts to curtail sales of dog meat, this
is believed to be the first time that the government had threatened
concrete penalties.

The report could not be independently verified. A man who answered the
phone at the Yulin municipal government, has never openly supported the
festival, denied that it even existed. “There’s never been a dog meat
festival in Yulin,” said the man, who only gave his surname, Luo. (The
festival’s existence is well-documented).

People in parts of southern and northeastern China have prized dog meat for
centuries, considering it a delicacy with “heating qualities” that make it
comforting on cool days.

Yet, as China becomes wealthier — and more exposed to foreign ideas — its
attitudes toward dogs are shifting. Dogs have become popular pets among the
country’s burgeoning middle and upper classes; in major cities, it’s common
to see poodles, Pekingese, golden retrievers and huskies bouncing through
public parks, some dressed by their owners in doggie clothing.

Peter Li, a China policy specialist at HSI, said that the festival’s dog
meat sales have dropped each year since 2014, but will probably continue
despite the ban.

“It won’t be public resistance — like, ‘you don’t want us to sell, but we
still will’ — but they’ll probably do it secretly,” he said. “They’ll
probably sell it at night, or they’ll supply dog meat to restaurants. They
just won’t sell it at the market.”

He added that the organization received “oral notice” of the ban from local
dog meat traders, as well as three visitors to a local market. He had not
seen documentation of the ban.

Most Chinese people desire an end to the controversial festival, China’s
official New China News Agency reported in June 2016, citing a survey.

“It is embarrassing to us that the world wrongly believes that the brutally
cruel Yulin festival is part of Chinese culture,” Qin Xiaona, director of
the Capital Animal Welfare Association charity, a Chinese animal welfare
group, told the agency. “It isn’t.”

But the Yulin government is reluctant to completely shut the festival down,
said an employee of a Chinese animal rights group that has been
communicating with local officials for years — they consider it a proud
local tradition. The employee requested anonymity as her organization, like
many activist groups in China, is under close scrutiny from national
authorities.

Although the officials have no problem considering cats and dogs as
sustenance, she added, some still oppose the festival, as its mass, public
slaughter of dogs violates food safety regulations.

Hollywood celebrities including Matt Damon, Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara
have pleaded for China to ban the festival. Last year, several animal
rights groups, including Duo Duo and HSI, amassed 11 million signatures on
a petition calling for its cancellation. Carrie Fisher, the late actress of
“Star Wars” fame, helped deliver it to China’s embassy in London.

“These poor dogs need us to fight for them,” she said at the time,
accompanied by her beloved French bulldog, Gary. “Every single one of them
is as precious as my dear Gary, every one of them is someone’s best friend.”

*The New York Times contributed.*

New bird flu strain raises pandemic fears in China

BY ON MAY 2, 2017

A new strain of avian influenza, which has high pathogenicity in poultry and can be deadly for humans has surfaced in China, raising fears of a potential pandemic, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported.

The FAO said the new strain represented a worrisome mutation of the H7N9 virus, because until now, it has shown low pathogenicity, meaning that it causes only mild or no illness in poultry. Data from China’s Guangdong province suggests, however, that the new strain has shifted to high pathogenicity in poultry while retaining its capacity to cause severe illness in humans.

Reports indicated that the new strain of H7N9 could lead to high mortality for birds within 48 hours of infection, which could subsequently cause serious economic losses for the poultry industry.

The FAO said that human cases of bird flu have been increasing in China, but did not link these with the new strain of the H7N9 virus. In its March update, the FAO said that 20 human cases were reported in Hunan, Jiangsu, Guangxi, Fujian, Guizhou, Chongqing, Shandong and Zhejiang provinces, and in its April 12 update, the FAO reported 16 more cases, as well as two detected in birds.

So far, there is no indication that the new strain of the virus has spread to wild birds, the FAO said, and it has not been detected in poultry in other countries.

“However, these countries (with poultry farms) remain at risk and need to be vigilant for a potential incursion of the virus, in a low or highly pathogenic form,” Matthew Stone, Deputy Director General of the World Organization for Animal Health said in a statement. “Constant surveillance of domestic poultry as well as wild birds by national veterinary services is essential to reduce the risks associated with virus spread and protect both animal and human health, as well as livelihoods.”

“China has embarked on intensified surveillance and results are awaited to better assess the epidemiology and potential spread of this new, highly pathogenic virus,” Sophie Von Dobschuetz, Animal Health Officer at FAO, said. “FAO, through its office in Beijing, is in regular dialogue with the ministry of agriculture and providing recommendations for surveillance and control.”

As in previous human cases of the infection, most of the recently reported human cases of bird flu in China were the result of visiting live bird markets or coming into contact with infected birds on farms. Stone said that prevention measures to curb the spread of the H7N9 virus should include laboratory testing, increased hygiene at live bird markets and on-farm biosecurity to reduce exposure.

Expert Calls for Greater Efforts to Fight H7N9 Flu

26 April 2017

CHINA – China has worked hard to prevent and control the spread of the H7N9 influenza virus, which this winter registered its largest outbreak since first being reported in China in 2013, but greater efforts are needed against the contagious disease, said Monique Eloit, director-general of the World Organization for Animal Health.

“Controlling avian flu is very difficult, because there are different strains, and sometimes there are no symptoms in animals with the disease,” Dr Eloit said on Monday during a visit to China.

“For the H7N9 strain, China’s Ministry of Agriculture developed a very comprehensive control programme with different complementary measures, especially for live bird markets, which were the main sources of contamination and risk for spreading the disease,” she said.

China recorded 192 human H7N9 cases, including 79 deaths in January. In January 2016, there were 28 cases, including five deaths, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission, China’s top health authority.

The number of cases fell to 160 in February and 96 in March. Experts from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said the disease, which peaks in winter, was expected to drop off in late April.

Last year, China began taking measures against the virus, such as closing live poultry markets in provinces heavily hit by the virus such as Anhui and Hunan.

“I believe China significantly improved its capacity to control the diseases in animals,” Dr Eloit said.

“Unfortunately, avian flu is a very contagious disease, so if it is not controlled at the source it is a risk for humans and for other countries… because of global trade. Improvement of the control programme, and also improvement in transparency… should be the two main pillars of the Chinese strategy,” she said.

Efforts also should be adapted to changing situations. “The virus strain can change because sometimes wild birds are also infected,” she said.

While H7N9 generally is not transmitted from person to person, the World Health Organization has called for more vigilance in China and stressed the possibility that the virus may adapt to “facilitate efficient, sustained human-to-human transmission.”