Authorities in eastern China have banned live poultry sales after an increase in the number of people infected with the H7N9 strain of bird flu, state media reported Tuesday, with the busy Chinese New Year travel period already under way.
So far this year, H7N9 has killed 19 people in China and infected 96, the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
A week ago, more than 50 cases had been reported. The virus is believed to pass to humans through direct contact with infected birds.
The jump in cases comes during the 40-day travel period around Chinese New Year, during which Chinese are expected to make 3.6 billion trips as families reunite. Chinese New Year is on Friday.
The World Health Organization says there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission, but recommends continued vigilance and close monitoring given the population movement prior to Chinese New Year and potentially unpredictable behavior of flu viruses.
Xinhua said live poultry trading has been halted in three cities in coastal Zhejiang province, where 49 cases and 12 deaths have been reported. The province also is inspecting farms and banning flights of domestic pigeons.
Neighboring Shanghai will halt live poultry trading for three months starting Friday. The city has reported eight infections and four deaths this year.