China has seen a spate of human deaths from bird flu that sparked warnings from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as tens of millions throng airport, train and bus terminals to gather for Lunar New Year celebrations marking the Year of the Rooster.
On Thursday, the Hunan province in central China reported its 17th human case of bird flu this year. The patient had contact with infected poultry before, although his human contacts have not shown flu symptoms, state media reported. The link to poultry is particularly of interest now as dishes from fowl are often a major part of the holiday dining with friends and family.
This came just as the CDC on Thursday issued a low level travel advisory on travel to China. While there are no recommendations against travel to China, the health authority is advising travelers to the country not to touch birds and eat food that is fully cooked.
The spread of bird flu comes at an inopportune time for Asia widely with countries in the region that are home to large populations celebrate the festival. Countries like South Korea and Vietnam also see mass travel, though not on the scale of China with the annual week-long break described as the largest movement of people in a narrow window. The holiday in China runs from Friday through Feb. 2, or Thursday next week.
Nearly 40 countries—including some in Europe—have reported new outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza of various strains in poultry or wild birds since November, according to the WHO.
"The rapidly expanding geographical distribution of these outbreaks and the number of virus strains currently co-circulating have put WHO on high alert," director-general Margaret Chan told the start of the U.N. agency's executive board in Geneva on Monday, Reuters reported.