The dilemma in Controlling the Contact between Humans and Live Poultry: Lessons from a Re-emerging Human H7N9 Influenza Case in Shanghai China

Since the first H7N9 influenza case was diagnosed in 2013, the disease has involved more than ten provinces and municipalities of China. There are a number of cases diagnosed in the years 2014 and 2015, most of whom had a history of live poultry contact, although there are already strict limitations on the purchase of live poultry. This reflects the dilemma between the needs of disease prevention and pre-existing social economic factors. Here we discuss this issue starting from a recent case of human H7N9 influenza diagnosed in Shanghai

The dilemma in Controlling the Contact between Humans and Live Poultry

Lessons from a Re-emerging Human H7N9 Influenza Case in Shanghai China


By Hongzhou Lu*

and Tangkai Qi, Jiaying Shen

Division of Infectious Disease

Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre affiliated to Fudan University


The Case

A 52 years old man in Shanghai bought live chicken and slaughtered it at home on March 23rd , 2015. 3 days later he started to have a fever of 38.6 oC accompanied with chills. He had neither respiratory symptom, gastrointestinal symptom nor other discomforts. He took antipyretic drug by himself and fever relieved. On March 27th the body temperature went as high as 39 oC. Chest X-ray at a local hospital showed “Increased veins of bilateral lung”. The doctor considered “viral upper respiratory infection” and prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. On April 1st the patient had a fever as high as 39.6 oC accompanied with nonproductive cough. So he went to the District Central Hospital. Chest CT scan showed “inflammation on the lower lobes of both lungs”. A rapid swab antigen test showed a positive result of influenza A. He was given a combined therapy of oseltamivir phosphate at 150mg twice daily), levofloxacin 400mg per day, imipenem cilastatin 2g per day, methylprednisolone 40mg per day, human immunoglobulin 20g per day, as well as symptomatic treatment. The patient’s condition deteriorated and developed breath shortness on April 5th. A repeated chest CT also showed more severe lung foci. Throat swab was collected and sent to local CDC on April 5th. On April 6th, there was a positive H7N9 PCR report. The patient was confirmed with a diagnosis of human H7N9 avian influenza and transferred to our hospital. He was continued with oseltamivir 150mg twice daily treatment for 7 days and discharged on April 15th.


There is an established link between human H7N9 influenza and contact with live poultry markets [1,2]. Soon after the outbreak of human H7N9 influenza, the Shanghai municipal government totally suspended live poultry trade according to the advices from experts [3,4]. Other cities also took similar measures wherever human cases were reported. Surveys estimated that closure of live poultry markets (LPMs) reduced the daily number of human infections by 97-99%, respectively [5,6]. These policies were extended in the epidemic seasons of the years 2014 and 2015. In non-epidemic seasons, live poultry trade was permitted only in isolated regions of designated markets, with close monitoring on the birds and environment.

The Shanghai municipal fully suspended live poultry purchase from February 19th to April 30th, 2015. However this patient developed flu like symptoms three days after contact with live poultry on March 23rd. Then we learned that he bought it from Taicang city near Shanghai, where live poultry trade has also been suspended. It turned out that the patient traded with an unlicensed individual trader nearby a market at Taicang. This reflects a long lasting dilemma between the needs of infectious diseases prevention and social economic needs.

Certain factors might have contributed to this dilemma:

  • Dietary needs and cultural habits: chefs and home cooks have become accustomed to buying live birds, slaughter it and prepare dishes which fit people’s tastes. This demand is even more robust during traditional festivals.
  • Economic benefits: Human H7N9 avian influenza outbreaks lead to a direct economic loss of over 6.5 billion US dollars within 3 months, estimated by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture. Accompanied is the shutdown or bankruptcy of enterprises that keep or purchase live poultry. Even though live poultry markets are shut down, dietary and livelihood needs drive people to purchase live poultry beyond the monitoring.
  • Part of the H7N9 influenza patients had a history of keeping domestic poultry instead of contacting with live poultry market. Despite of the progress of urbanization, there are a large number of people staying in rural areas, maintaining self-sufficient rural economy including backyard poultry. Household of poultry is deeply rooted in the local farming culture and daily life, posing additional challenge to restrict the contact between human and poultry.

At the same time, a number of different subtypes of avian influenza viruses is emerging in live poultry markets, some of which have resulted in human disease (Table 1). It is necessary and urgent to control the spread of avian influenza virus from birds to humans in a vast and populated country like China, so that to better protect the health of the people and prevent endemic or pandemic influenza. To better manage the production and trading of live poultry, several measures might be considered including:

  • Periodic public hearing involving animal scientist, infectious disease specialists, epidemiologists, poultry enterprises, customers and policy makers. So that they can develop strategies taking into account both the needs of public health and concerns of private stakeholders.
  • More public advertisement about the knowledge of infectious disease prevention and control, especially that about H7N9 influenza. Given H7N9 avian influenza predominantly occurs in middle-aged and old people, special efforts should be made to educating this population.
  • Fast development of avian H7N9 influenza vaccine (to be provided for free or low-cost to poultry farms and housekeepers).
  • Economic compensation to encourage family farmers stop poultry keeping, together with employment support to live poultry salesmen after closing LPMs.
  • Legislation and law enforcement in guaranteeing the security of public health. Joint power of law and human emotion will guide the public to establish a healthy and safe lifestyle.

Table 1 Avian influenza in human and marketed birds academically reported from 2011 to 2015

Subtype Year Country Avian infection Human infection Citation
H11N2 2012 China Yes No [7]
H4N2 2012 China Yes No [8]
H3N2 2012 China Yes No [9]
H10N9 2013 China Yes No [10]
H7N9 2013-2015 China Yes Yes [4]
H5N2 2012-2013 Vietnam, Nigeria Yes No [11][12]
H6N1 2013 Taiwan No Yes [13]
H5N6 2013 China Yes No [14]
H4N6,H4N9 2014 Thailand Yes No [15]
H10N8 2014 China Yes Yes [16]



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  8. Teng Q, Ji X, Li G, et al. Complete genome sequences of a novel reassortant H4N2 avian influenza virus isolated from a live poultry marketin eastern China. J Virol. 2012 Nov;86(21):11952. doi: 10.1128/JVI.02179-12.
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  11. Nishi T, Okamatsu M, Sakurai K, et al. Genetic analysis of an H5N2 highly pathogenic avian influenza virus isolated from a chicken in a live bird market in Northern Vietnam in 2012. J Vet Med Sci. 2014 Jan;76(1):85-7. Epub 2013 Aug 27.
  12. Coker T, Meseko C, Odaibo G, et al. Circulation of the low pathogenic avian influenza subtype H5N2 virus in ducks at a live bird marketin Ibadan, Nigeria. Infect Dis Poverty. 2014 Nov 3;3(1):38. doi: 10.1186/2049-9957-3-38. eCollection 2014.
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  16. Zhang T, Bi Y, Tian H, et al. Human infection with influenza virus A(H10N8) from live poultry markets, China, 2014. Emerg Infect Dis. 2014 Dec;20(12):2076-9. doi:10.3201/eid2012.140911


* Correspondence to Dr. Hongzhou Lu

Funding: the grant of the 12th  Five-year Plan of China (grant 2012ZX10001003)