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China drops H7N9 bird flu's 'infectious' label in spite of increase in cases

BEIJING--China has reportedly downgraded H7N9 bird flu in humans, dropping its description as “infectious” in new guidelines on how to deal with the disease, even as new cases spike with the onset of winter.

The National Health and Family Planning Commission described it as a “communicable acute respiratory disease” in its 2014 diagnosis and treatment protocols.

In the 2013 version it was considered as an “infectious disease.”

The Beijing Times on Monday quoted an unnamed Beijing disease control center official saying that health authorities decided to “make the downgrade” on the basis that nearly a year of analysis had shown H7N9 was “not strongly infectious.”

The H7N9 human outbreak began in China in February 2013 and reignited fears that a bird flu virus could mutate to become easily transmissible between people, potentially triggering a pandemic.

The guidelines come as human cases undergo a seasonal spike, with 95 cases confirmed in mainland China so far this month according to an AFP tally of reports by local authorities.

More than half have been in the eastern province of Zhejiang, with 24 in Guangdong in the south.

So far seven patients have died in mainland China this year.

That compares with 144 confirmed cases, including 46 deaths, in the whole of 2013 according to official statistics.

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