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China Culls 20,000 Birds as Flu Fears Flare

Technical staff from the animal disease prevention and control center inject a chicken with the H5N1 bird flu vaccine in Shangsi county, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, April 3, 2013.
China has shut down poultry markets in Shanghai and started culling more than 20,000 birds in an attempt to stop the spread of a new, deadly strain of avian flu.

Health officials said that as of Friday, the H7N9 virus had killed six people, the latest death being a 64-year-old farmer in the city of Huzhou, in China's eastern province of Zhejiang.

Officials say in all, 14 people are known to have contracted the virus and scientists are no closer to determining how the disease is spreading. Health officials say tests so far show the virus cannot be transmitted from person to person.

Shanghai Disease Control and Prevention Chief Wu Fan said Friday that tests ruled out the possibility of the one man thought to have possibly contracted the H7N9 virus from a confirmed victim.

"Our lab examination has confirmed that the tests [of one of the 119 close contacts of the H7N9 patients with suspected flu symptoms] all read H7N9 negative. It means that he did not contract the H7N9 virus, and it's good news for the public,'' said Wu.

Test results from Hong Kong also ended fears that the virus had already made its way there. Hospital officials announced late Friday that a 7-year-old girl who had traveled to Shanghai and been in contact with poultry also had tested negative for the virus.

Still, Hong Kong's secretary for food and health, Ko Wing-man, said officials are prepared to act if the virus is detected.

"In case we detect any kind of avian flu, including the H7 avian flu, in Hong Kong birds, we will act according to the suggestions of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and take immediate relevant action. We will immediately stop the import of poultry from mainland China. The actions may also include the partial or comprehensive culling of poultry,'' said Ko.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it also is following the situation closely and is developing a vaccine as a precaution.

In Japan, airline passengers from China are being asked to report any influenza-like symptoms.