BEIJING, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Chinese health officials say H7N9 bird flu has killed 19 people in the country so far this year with the number of human infections up to 96.
Even as health officials in the affected regions have gone on higher alert to fight the spread of the disease among human, authorities have banned live fowl trading in some of the affected areas.
The official Xinhua News Agency said live poultry trading was halted in Hangzhou, Ningbo and Jinhua cities in eastern Zhejiang province, which has reported 49 human H7N9 infections, including 12 deaths this year. The province has launched emergency surveillance of poultry farms and haunts of migratory birds in addition to halting the flying of domestic pigeons.
In Shanghai, adjacent to Zhejiang province, authorities will halt live poultry trading in the next three months and heighten surveillance, as four people have died in the city among the eight cases reported so far.
Guangdong province in southern China has reported 26 new H7N9 cases and four deaths so far.
Xinhua said Hong Kong's health officials Monday confirmed one H7N9 case at a local agricultural market and planned to cull about 20,000 birds.
Other affected provinces include Jiangsu, Fujian and Hunan.
Separately, Xinhua quoted Hualan Biological Engineering Inc. as saying a vaccine developed by its subsidiary has passed initial examination but that it will be some time before its production can begin.
China's National Health and Family Planning Commission says sporadic of H7N9 cases will continue in some of the cities.
The report quoted experts as saying large-scale H7N9 epidemic, however, is unlikely during the current Spring Festival holiday as no H7N9 virus mutation that could affect public health has been identified.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome last week warned China's New Year festivities could lead to further spread and human exposure when millions of poultry would be consumed.
FAO's chief veterinary officer said Chinese authorities are enforcing important measures to reduce the risk of human exposure. However, he said other countries need to stay alert as the virus continues to circulate in poultry without showing any visible clinical signs.