Humans with bird flu pose no threat to poultry populations, says UN agency

Uncontrolled live poultry trade poses the highest risk of A(H7N9) introduction. Photo: FAO/Saul Palma

19 February 2014 – The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today there is no evidence that human patients infected with influenza A(H7N9), a low pathogenic virus in poultry, can transmit the virus to animals, including birds.

“Humans that become ill with influenza A(H7N9) constitute no threat to poultry populations,” underlined FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth.

The agency's comments come in the wake of the first human case of A(H7N9) outside China. The patient is originally from Guangdong Province in China – one of the provinces most affected by the virus this year and where the woman is thought to have contracted the infection. She was hospitalized in Malaysia while visiting the country as a tourist.

“This case does not come as a surprise and should not be a cause for increased concern, but should remind the world to remain vigilant,” said Mr. Lubroth.

FAO has no evidence that affected people could transmit the virus to other species, including birds, he stated, adding that the highest risk of virus introduction is uncontrolled live poultry trade between affected and unaffected areas.

People, on the other hand, become infected following close contact with infected live poultry, mostly in live bird markets or when slaughtering birds at home.

Risk assessments carried out by the World Health Organization (WHO) show that should infected people from affected areas travel internationally, community level spread is unlikely since the virus does not have the ability to transmit easily among humans.

Mr. Lubroth observed that “imported” human cases such as the one reported in Malaysia could be seen again in the not-too-distant future, while noting that to date the virus has not been found in poultry populations outside affected areas in China.

According to FAO, birds that have contracted A(H7N9) do not show clinical signs, which renders early detection of the virus in poultry populations more difficult.

The agency urges countries to adapt their surveillance programmes to include this recently emerged virus, including targeting critical points of entry, where direct or indirect live poultry trade with infected areas might occur.

FAO is focusing in particular on high risk countries, facilitating risk assessment, contingency planning, expansion of diagnostic capabilities, and risk-based surveillance.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

UN agency warns of growing bird flu risk, urges vigilance ahead of Chinese holidays

Related Stories