Live poultry markets in Hong Kong and across the border should be shut down to prevent the spread of bird flu amid signs the virus is mutating into a deadlier strain.
The virus now occurs in 48 variants after mutations by the H7N9 and H9N2 strains, Apple Daily reported Thursday, citing Guan Yi, a bird flu expert from the University of Hong Kong School of Public Health.
It will keep mutating and pose a graver danger to public health, he said.
Guan led a 2013-2014 study which found 3 percent of live chickens in a random sample from markets in Guangdong province had the H7N9 virus which has been blamed for 229 deaths.
He said Hong Kong can continue to import live chicken from registered markets in the mainland as long as these comply with strict health safety guidelines.
However, he said closing live markets should be considered as a long-term solution given the new findings.
Guan’s team studied 500 live chickens and ducks in 15 mainland cities and five provinces. The findings were published in the international journal Nature.
HKU assistant professor Zhu Huachen said H7N9, first reported in humans two years ago, has spread from eastern to southern China.
Guangdong has the most infections and the risk for Hongkongers is rising because of frequent travels between Hong Kong and the southern province.
Since its outbreak in the mainland in 2013, H7N9 has infected 638 people around the world compared with more than 600 that came down with the H5N1 strain in 1997, she said.
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