A new bird flu strain was detected in China and reported by the Word Health Organization on April 1, 2013. This one is designated Avian Influenza A H7N9. This is different than the H5N1 strain that plagued China and Asia from 2007 through 2009.
While most of the world has remained free of bird flu, it has repeatedly surfaced in Asian countries, and especially in China. There were 130 reported cases of human infection when the outbreak was announced. 44 of the victims died of respiratory ailments, which gives this strain a fatality rate of about 33%. The others have recovered and survived. Almost all of the victims reported contact with live poultry or poultry farms.
This raises new concerns about the quality of chicken products from China. Viruses and bacteria can be passed in chicken products unless the chicken is very thoroughly cooked. it is also possible that this evolving virus could become resistant to destruction through cooking as was found with the Mad Cow Disease scare a few years ago.
While no documented cases of human-to-human H7N9 infections have been reported thus far, if the virus follows the path seen in other strains, those types of infections will soon start to show up.
Chinese authorities have taken aggressive actions whenever bird flu infections show up. These actions include closing live bird markets near the reported infection areas, as well as sometimes a complete slaughter of all poultry in an infected zone.
All of the infections thus far appear to be passed to humans through direct contact with infected birds, or the unsanitary conditions in which they are raised. Many chicken farmers quite literally live with their birds in conditions that would make a pig gag. The unsanitary conditions are the ongoing problem with quite a number of food products coming from China. Numerous reports have emerged over the past few years about tilapia fish raised on sewage in China, as well as mushrooms tainted with pesticides banned in the USA. Most of the rice crop in southern China is contaminated with cadmium.
The real question is how many of these products are being tested when they arrive in the USA? Back in 2007, in a four month period the FDA reported that it refused 298 food shipments from China, but they did not say how many shipments were tested in total. The lack of adequate testing on the part of the Federal government has caused some states, such as Alabama, to do their own testing of imported seafood. The have found as much as 60% of imported seafood is contaminated with toxins.
The history of food safety in China has been less than stellar. The most sound advice is to be wary of any food products originating in China. Read each package carefully to identify the country of origin for all ingredients. In my family we steer away from all foods produced in China.