Bird flu: stop importing poultry meat?

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Fear of bird flu spread with imported poultry meat

While the number of infections with the bird flu virus H7N9 continues to rise in China, experts such as Alexander Kekulé, head of the Institute for Biosafety Research (IBS) in Halle, point out the possible transmission routes of the pathogens to Germany. In a recent interview with the Reuters news agency, the microbiologist and head of the IBS called for an immediate stop to imports of poultry meat from China.

In early April, the head of the Institute for Biosafety Research warned in a contribution for the newspaper "Der Tagesspiegel" about the risks of a possible import of the H7N9 viruses with imported Chinese poultry meat. The expert is extremely critical of the import of poultry meat from the east China province of Schandong into the European Union (EU), which has been permitted since 2008. In his opinion, stricter security measures should be introduced immediately across Europe for the import of poultry meat.

Stopping poultry meat imports from China The head of the IBS said that poultry meat imports from China had to be stopped temporarily in order to prevent the transmission of the bird flu virus H7N9 in this way. "We have to be careful not to accidentally sell infected chicken meat in Europe," Kekulé told Reuters. The expert criticized that the EU has so far been unable to bring about an import ban on Chinese chicken meat. A transmission in this way cannot be completely ruled out, since the route of infection of the previously non-human H7N9 virus infections has not yet been clarified. According to information from the Chinese health authorities, only around 40 percent of those infected had direct contact with live poultry, so that a majority of those affected have to consider another transmission route.

Increasing number of H7N9 infections in China According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 126 people have been infected with the bird flu virus H7N9 in China, 24 patients have died as a result of the infection. The first infection with the pathogen was also recently reported from Taiwan. In addition to complaints such as fever, sore throat or nausea and vomiting, those affected showed mostly strong cough and often developed severe pneumonia. For birds, however, the H7N9 virus is apparently harmless than many other avian influenza viruses. The infected animals often showed no symptoms, which, according to Alexander Kekulé, also poses a certain risk. "Because the poultry does not become noticeably sick, it can never be ruled out that sick chickens, ducks or pigeons will be consumed," said the expert.

Bird flu pandemic risk? If the H7N9 viruses are also found in wild birds or are transferable from person to person, the risk of infection when eating poultry meat is, according to the same assessment, a rather minor problem with regard to the global spread. The virus had to be transmitted extremely efficiently from person to person for the development of a pandemic, which the IBS director believes is still a long way off. But it cannot be ruled out that the H7N9 viruses can quickly achieve a more efficient interpersonal transmission through mutation, explained Kekulé. (fp)

Also read:
Rising number of bird flu deaths in China
Transmission of H7N9 from person to person
Enigmatic transmission of the bird flu virus H7N9
Avian influenza virus has reached Beijing
No all-clear for bird flu virus H7N9

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