China can control the outbreak of an avian flu strain newly contracted by humans, a senior Chinese health official said on Sunday (April 7), a day after China reported its eighteenth case of the H7N9 virus that has so far killed six people.
China has said it is mobilizing resources nationwide to combat the new strain of bird flu, monitoring hundreds of close contacts of confirmed cases and culling tens of thousands of birds where traces of the virus were found.
Authorities rounded up pigeons and caught them in cages in the People's Park in Shanghai after infected pigeons were discovered in a food market in the city earlier in the week.
"Although everyone is worried about bird flu, I think the government can take measures like doing a test on the pigeons, and then the safe pigeons can be released and stay in this square," said 28-year-old Jin Yexi, a Shanghai resident.
Twenty-nine year-old resident Shi Nannan was concerned that the virus could spread like the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus, which emerged in China in 2003 and killed about 10 percent of the 8,000 people it infected world-wide.
"I'm quite worried that the bird flu could be in a latent period and will break out. Because, a few years ago, when there was the SARS virus, it was very frightening. Actually, I'm really worried, I have a child, I'm very worried that a disease could spread throughout the whole of Shanghai city on a large scale like that again," Nannan said.
A manager of a pharmacy in Shanghai said they were selling out of stocks of face masks and baphicacanthus root, a traditional medication believed to prevent flu, since the outbreak was reported.
"Because of reports of bird flu in the last two days, sales of face masks and baphicacanthus roots have gone right up, and supply can barely meet demand. Every day, between ten and twenty boxes of baphicacanthus root medicine and forty to fifty packs of face masks sell out. So the suppliers are nearly out of stock now, and we have nowhere to get more," pharmacy manager Wu Yan said.
But China was confident that it can control the bird flu outbreak.
"We can. We are confident we can effectively control it," the head of China's National Health and Family Planning Commission Li Bin told Reuters on the sidelines of a World Health Organization (WHO) backed event in Beijing.
Li did not elaborate, but she is the most senior Chinese health official yet to publicly comment on the subject.
The bird flu outbreak has caused global concern and some Chinese internet users and newspapers have questioned why it took so long for the government to announce the new cases, especially as two of the victims fell ill in February.
The government has said it needed time to correctly identify the virus.
The WHO's representative to China, Dr. Michael O'Leary, repeated that no evidence of transmission between humans has been found and praised China for its efforts to determine the source of the virus.
"We don't know yet where this will go, but we're pleased so far that there's not really evidence of person-to-person transmission, even though there's a couple of small family clusters, but China is demonstrating their ability to get on top of this problem quickly, to investigate strongly and to, I'm sure, come to conclusions as quickly as possible," he said at a World Health Day event in the Chinese capital.
Other strains of bird flu, such as H5N1, have been circulating for many years and can be transmitted from bird to bird, and bird to human, but not generally from human to human.
China's most senior health official says the country can control the outbreak of an avian flu strain newly contracted by humans, as authorities round up pigeons in parks, and face masks and flu medication sell out in Shanghai.