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updated: 4/6/2013 12:04 PM

Two more China cities halt live poultry trade in h7n9 scare

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By Bloomberg News

Two more Chinese cities halted live poultry sales today after residents became infected with the deadly H7N9 strain of avian influenza as Shanghai confirmed two new cases of a virus that's already killed six people.

In Hangzhou, where two out of three people diagnosed with the disease have died, trade at a farm-produce market was suspended after the virus was found in quail on sale yesterday and a cull started today, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, without saying where it got the information. In Nanjing, where three people have been diagnosed with the disease, live poultry trading was halted and more than 8,400 birds seized, the China News Service said.

The outbreak, first reported last month, caused soybean futures and Chinese stocks traded in Hong Kong and New York to fall yesterday on concern the virus may spark an epidemic and hurt the nation's economic recovery. The new cases confirmed in Shanghai today take the total number of human infections to 18, all in eastern China.

"The current situation seems to be much more serious than previous cases of bird flu, although still no comparison to the SARS in spring 2003," Lu Ting, head of Greater China economics at Bank of America Corp. in Hong Kong, said in a report yesterday. The outbreak could have a "sizable" impact on the economy "so investors are justified to be cautious," he said.

The outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome that hit China in 2003 caused economic growth for one quarter to drop by 2 percentage points, an impact of about 0.5 percentage point on an annualized basis, Lu wrote. If the current situation deteriorates, Lu said he may lower his estimate for expansion of gross domestic product for the second quarter to below 8 percent from 8.1 percent.

China's economy grew 7.9 percent in the last three months of 2012 from a year earlier, the first acceleration in eight quarters, according to National Bureau of Statistics figures. Previously released data show GDP growth slowed to 7.9 percent in the second quarter of 2003, the peak of the SARS epidemic, from 10.8 percent in the previous three months.

China's stock markets in Shanghai and Shenzhen were closed yesterday and April 4 for a public holiday. In Hong Kong yesterday, the benchmark Hang Seng Index fell 2.7 percent to its lowest level since November on concern the bird-flu outbreak may worsen. The Bloomberg China-US Equity Index of the most-traded Chinese companies in the U.S. dropped 1.8 percent.

China Southern Airlines Co., Asia's biggest carrier by passenger numbers, slumped 8.5 percent in Hong Kong while Air China Ltd., Asia's biggest carrier by market value, declined 9.8 percent on concern travel to the region may be limited.

Even so, "past experiences told us that the negative impact from such epidemics won't last too long and ensuing penned- up demand could be strong, so there is no need for panic in the financial markets," Lu said.

The confirmed human infections of the new strain of influenza are "isolated" and there has been no sign of human- to-human transmission, Xinhua said in a separate report today, citing the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

Six deaths have been confirmed by China's authorities -- four in Shanghai and two in Hangzhou. Their ages ranged from 27 to 87.

The new cases in Shanghai, the country's financial hub, take the number of infections in the city to eight. One is a 74- year-old male farmer who fell ill on March 28 and the other a 66-year-old retired man who developed cold-like symptoms on March 29, Xinhua reported, citing the city's center for disease control and prevention. Both were confirmed as having the H7N9 virus today, it said.

Shanghai was the first city to shut its poultry markets. Two were closed on April 4 and all were shuttered from today, officials said at a briefing yesterday. Officials also banned live poultry from other parts of the country from entering the city.

In Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province about 167 miles (269 kilometers) northwest of Shanghai, residents were told to refrain from touching any birds, "not even the bird droppings on your vehicle's windshield," China National Radio said, citing a local government spokesman it didn't name. "Use tools to remove droppings if you must," the spokesman was quoted as saying.

In Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southwest of Shanghai, one patient diagnosed with H7N9 bought and ate quail from a market in the city's Shangcheng district, Xinhua said in its report today. The local center for disease control and prevention detected the virus in quail sold in the market yesterday and samples have been sent to the national disease control and prevention center for checking, it said.

Hong Kong's Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man said that he isn't ruling out the possibility that the city may see bird-flu cases in poultry or humans, Radio Television Hong Kong reported today on its website. The government will try to identify suspected cases as soon as possible, implement isolation and carry out rapid tests so that a large-scale outbreak in the city can be avoided, Ko was quoted as saying.

China's Food and Drug Administration said today it expedited approval of intravenous anti-influenza drug Peramivir yesterday "to satisfy demand." The drug is "effective and provides an alternative to patients who cannot inhale or take drugs orally," according to a statement on its website.

Shares in Nasdaq-listed BioCryst Pharmaceuticals Inc., the Durham, North Carolina-based company that developed the drug, surged 29 percent yesterday.

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