Closing live poultry markets, though an economic setback, is a sure way of curbing the deadly H7N9 bird flu in case of an outbreak, disease control researchers said.
The closure of 780 live poultry markets in the Chinese cities of Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Nanjing in April reduced the daily number of H7N9 infections by more than 97 percent, said a study in The Lancet medical journal.
Most have since reopened, and China is approaching its flu season now.
“Our findings confirm that live poultry markets closure is a highly effective intervention to prevent human disease and protect public health,'' study lead author Benjamin Cowling of the University of Hong Kong said in a statement.
The study said losses associated with the closures in April have been estimated at about 57 billion yuan, AFP reports.
A total of 137 people have been infected by the virus since February, and 45 have died.
Live poultry markets are common in China and countries like Thailand, Laos and Singapore, and present an ideal environment for virus spread between birds held together in very high concentrations.
The researchers had collected information about every laboratory-confirmed human case of H7N9 infection in the four cities over several months and constructed a statistical model showing the before-and-after effect of market closure.
The team found the closures reduced the average daily number of infections by 99 percent each in Shanghai and Hangzhou and by 97 percent in Huzhou and Nanjing – and rapidly.