Bird flu fears: 20K birds killed in China, human death toll from virus rises to six

A worker catches a live chicken at a poultry market in Shanghai, China on Friday, April 5, 2013.(AP)

Six people are reported dead, thousands of birds have been destroyed and international travel stocks plummeted Friday as fears mount over an outbreak of the H7N9 avian flu virus.

The large bird cull occurred Friday after a sample of pigeons at a Shanghai live poultry market tested positive for the H7N9 virus. More than 20,000 birds were killed and the market was also shut down, reports Reuters.

Meanwhile, the number of confirmed human cases of the virus has risen to 14, with six of those cases resulting in fatalities. All of the human cases of H7N9 have been in Eastern China, with four of the deaths in Shanghai.

While these early cases of avian flu don’t qualify as an outbreak yet, residents are drawing parallels to the quick-spreading SARS virus, where more than 8,000 people were infected worldwide and about 10 per cent of them died. “I’m only getting my groceries at the large supermarkets now because I don’t think it is safe to visit the wet markets anymore,” Shao Linxia, 38, told Reuters. “We all remember SARS and how quickly it could spread, so we are obviously worried.”

However Chinese officials say that there is still no evidence that the virus is transmitted from human to human, reports The Washington Post. Those who have been in close contact with any of the confirmed cases are being monitored, with no evidence yet that any of them are sick.

Still, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s influenza division is partnering with Chinese officials to try to find the cause of the human cases and to start working on an early vaccine for the H7N9 virus.

Fears of bird flu also had an effect on the economy Friday, with airline and travel stocks being hit particularly hard, reports the Wall Street Journal. Air China stock was down nearly 10 per cent and China Southern Airlines Co. stock dipped 8.5 per cent. China Eastern Airlines Corp. was also down 8.3 per cent.

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