China is working to assess the prevalence of a new strain of H7N9 bird flu, state radio reported on Wednesday, after global health authorities said the strain had evolved into a more severe form in birds.
So far the variant strain has only been detected in Guangdong province, but given the wide circulation of livestock and poultry in the country, it would be difficult to prevent its spread to other areas.
Until now, the H7N9 virus has shown little or no clinical symptoms in birds, despite being highly pathogenic when it infects human.
But China has detected an evolution in the virus that is capable of causing severe disease in poultry and requires close monitoring, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.
Samples of the virus taken from two infected humans were injected into birds in a laboratory and became “highly pathogenic” for poultry.
But that designation applies only to birds, not humans, WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said, and there is “no evidence that the changes in the virus affect the virus’ ability to spread between humans.”
A total of 304 new laboratory-confirmed human infections were reported in mainland China between Jan. 19 and Feb. 14, along with 36 deaths, the WHO said in its latest update on Monday.
The evolution of the virus may mean that the disease will become more apparent in some flocks, if birds begin to die off, making detection and control easier.