BEIJING — With confirmation that a sixth person has died from a mysterious avian-borne virus, Chinese officials escalated their response Friday, advising people to avoid live poultry, dispatching virologists to chicken farms across the country, and slaughtering more than 20,000 birds at a wholesale market in Shanghai where the virus, known as H7N9, was detected in a pigeon.
Anxious residents have been buying up stocks of a traditional Chinese cold remedy and crowding emergency rooms at the first sign of respiratory problems. During a news conference in Shanghai on Friday, an official advised journalists to avoid sneezing on others. And at a KFC restaurant in Beijing, employees stood idle as mounds of fried chicken went largely unsold.
“They say it’s OK to eat cooked chicken, but I’d rather not take the chance,’’ Zhang Minyu, 41, said as she coaxed her young son to instead order a soft-serve ice cream.
Roughly 10 years after Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, began here and spread across the globe, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing nearly 800, the deadly influenza outbreak is testing a government known for its secrecy and reluctance to divulge damaging news.
Although some critics have questioned why it took so long for officials to publicly announce the outbreak of the H7N9, public health experts have commended the government for responsiveness and transparency in the five days since officials identified the first victims.