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H7N9 bird flu kills 48-year-old man in China

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(Bloomberg) — A 48-year-old man from southern China’s Guangdong province died yesterday after being infected with the H7N9 avian influenza virus, the local government said.

The man surnamed Xie died at a hospital in Shenzhen, after being confirmed to have avian flu Jan. 15 in Foshan city, the province’s Health and Family Planning Commission said in a statement on its website. Ten people have died in Guangdong since August from H7N9 infections, according to the official China News Service.

Increased cases of the bird flu strain stoke concerns the virus may mutate into a form that spreads from person to person, as millions travel across China to see their families for the Lunar New Year holiday. Hong Kong, which neighbors Guangdong province, said Jan. 27 it will ban live chicken sales for 21 days and cull about 20,000 birds after a sample imported from mainland China tested positive for H7N9.

Zhongshan and Huizhou cities each reported a new case of H7N9 avian flu today, according to the Guangdong government statement. The Zhongshan case was a 2 1/2-year-old girl surnamed Liang, the agency said. It remains unclear whether the girl is related to another avian flu patient surnamed Liang reported in the same city yesterday, according to the China News Service report.

The virus can circulate widely in chicken, ducks and geese without causing the mass die-offs characteristic of the more infamous H5N1 bird flu virus. Its stealth has made it difficult to track and it’s typically more active during the colder winter months.

Even though H7N9 hasn’t mutated to become as contagious as seasonal flu, strains that emerge in China are of special interest to researchers because the country has been the springboard for contagions in the past.

The 1957-58 Asian Flu and 1968-69 Hong Kong Flu pandemics were first identified in the world’s most populous nation, and an earlier bird flu strain known as H5N1 is thought to have come from Guangdong in 1996.

–Feiwen Rong. Editors: Ben Scent, Stanley James

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