U.N. agency warns of increased bird flu risk in China

The U.N. agricultural agency warned China's neighboring countries on Monday about the growing risk of bird flu viruses in China, urging vigilance ahead of the upcoming festivities of the Chinese New Year.

Since late December, the number of human H7N9 influenza infections significantly increased in East and Southeast China, according to the World Health Organization. There were seven cases of H7N9 infections reported in 2014.

"(The Food and Agricultural Organization) called upon neighboring countries to remain vigilant in the face of A(H7N9) and other avian influenza viruses, such as highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1," the FAO said.

The holiday will result in millions of people and poultry moving. The Chinese New Year will also include the slaughter of poultry at home in many households. Additionally, influenza viruses traditionally increase activity during the winter months.

"Chinese authorities are enforcing important measures to reduce the risk of human exposure to the A(H7N9) virus," Juan Lubroth, the FAO's chief veterinary officer, said.

Such measures include regular bird market rest days, temporary closure of markets, heightened and ongoing surveillance in poultry and live bird market environments, improved hygiene in markets and control of poultry movements.

"But countries need to stay alert, as the virus continues to circulate in poultry without showing any visible clinical signs," Lubroth said. "The risk to humans remains, especially over the next few months and particularly during the Chinese New Year's holiday period."

Only China has reported influenza H7N9 cases in human, animals or the marketplace.