Live bird markets play a key role in poultry and human infections

The Ministry of Agriculture of the People’s Republic of China asked the Director General of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to send OIE experts to assess the situation with influenza A(H7N9) in animals and provide advice.

The mission confirms that many of the human cases of H7N9 appear to have a link with live bird markets.

To date no human cases or animal infections of H7N9 have been detected on poultry farms. During the mission the team made the hypothesis that people could be infected through exposure to infected birds in markets or to a contaminated environment such as live poultry markets where virus is present.

The experts believe that live bird markets may play a key role in human and animal infections with H7N9 and that, even if the overall level of infection is relatively low (having not been detected yet in poultry farms), live bird markets provide an environment for amplification and maintenance of the H7N9 virus.

Collaboration between human health and animal health sectors is useful to better understand transmission to humans.

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Recommendations

In case of outbreaks, destruction of infected poultry by Veterinary Services as well as poultry that have been in contact with infected birds is recommended. Culling of at risk-animals must be done following requirements for acceptable killing methods as described in the OIE Code.

There is no evidence to suggest that the consumption of poultry or eggs fit for human consumption could transmit the AI virus to humans. It is safe to eat properly prepared and cooked meat and eggs. Specific precautions when plucking poultry are recommended.

More assessment is needed to swiftly know whether poultry vaccination could be considered as an efficient control option for H7N9. It will be also important to verify whether the H7N9 virus is transmissible from humans to animals because if established, it could be a potential channel for the global spread of the virus.

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