China flu causes more than just health problems

The Asia Partnership on Emerging Infectious Diseases Research recently found a similarity between H5N1 and H7N9 in regard to the economic consequences it holds for poultry farmers.

H7N9 is a new strain of influenza that does not have an FDA approved vaccine, although research is underway to develop one. The H7N9 strain is bird-borne and has not been shown to be transferrable person-to-person. The presence of avian flu has had adverse consequences for poultry farmers in Asia.

"With H7N9 we are already seeing marked falls in demand for poultry and this can have a major effect on the livelihoods of the rural poor who depend on the sale of chickens for a significant part of their disposable income," Professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Microbiology Liu Wenjum said. "While it was necessary to close infected markets to protect public health, the flow-on effects for producers and others associated with the poultry industry are massive and there will be a need to look for alternative means of support for these producers."

Economic studies have suggested that the government should offer support to regulate the market price fluctuation by investing in slaughter houses and freezers, as a way to help the poor poultry farmers gravely affected by the Avian flu. The government does offer help to large poultry production facilities but does not yet offer it on a small scale.

Researchers found that small-scale poultry farmers do not have the means to increase biosecurity measures and cannot rightly combat an H7N9 infection without these security measures being made more affordable. Small-scale farmers also have limited equipment and technology to be able to screen their livestock for infection.

Researchers are currently working to find which species of wild bird transferred H7N9 to the domesticated poultry livestock, although no significant progress has yet been made. Authorities have asked researchers to publicly post all genetic sequences for any influenza strains found in all birds studied, as the Chinese government did with H7N9 when it was first detected.