(BEIJING) — Three more cases of people infected with a new strain of the bird flu were reported in China on Sunday, raising the total to 21.
But despite the growing number and six reported deaths, officials say the virus is not likely being spread from human to human.
“These recent reports from China are the first cases of human infection with H7N9 viruses. Although we do not yet know the source of infection for certain, at this time there is no evidence of sustained human to human transmission,” Dr. Michael O’Leary, the World Health Organization’s representative to China, said at a news conference in Beijing on Monday.
O’Leary said investigators are exploring a possible link between humans and animals.
“Some of the confirmed cases have had contact with animals or with environments in which animals were located. The virus has been found in a pigeon at a market in Shanghai. These events have given the possibility of animal to human transmission for which the investigations continue,” he said.
O’Leary also addressed speculation that the bird flu may be connected to the deaths of thousands of pigs in eastern China.
“The deaths of pigs in the Huangpu River may be caused by many factors. We have not yet connected the pig deaths to human cases of influenza,” he said.
He added that the pigs that have been tested have been found negative for influenza viruses.
“So far we really only have sporadic cases of a rare disease and perhaps it will remain that way. So this is not a time for overreaction or panic,” O’Leary advised.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Jackie Wattles, CNN