While the spread of H7N9 virus appears to have been brought under control in China, public healthcare experts say the bird flu outbreak has cost the country's poultry industry more than 40 billion yuan ($6.5 billion) in losses despite Beijing's swift actions to contain the outbreak.
The new strain of bird flu is reported to have infected 130 people in mainland China since emerging in March, including 35 who died, but no cases have been detected since early May, said Chinese health minister Li Bin at a World Health Organisation meeting in Geneva yesterday.
World health officials praised China's swift response measures to the outbreak, which included the closure of live poultry markets and the culling of birds.
According to Li, Beijing spent an additional 600 million yuan to support the healthy development of the country's poultry industry, as well as standardising methods of transporting poultry to reduce the spread among birds.
"The immediate outbreak has been controlled, but it is also unlikely that virus has simply disappeared. We believe we need go another autumn/winter/spring season to know," said Keiji Fukuda, WHO assistant director-general for health security.
"We also have high concern over the potential, I stress the potential, to gain the ability to sustain transmissibility."
China's poultry sales have since tumbled and prices plunged, Li said, causing major financial problems and job losses as a result.
On Tuesday, UN officials said the outbreak has caused industry losses of an average of 1 billion yuan a day since the end of March, with total losses amounting to 40 billion yuan.
"The economic impact of H7N9 have been astounding," said Juan Lubroth, chief veterinary officer at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation.
"Over $6.5 billion has been lost in the agriculture sector because of prices, consumer confidence and trade."
WHO officials also warned that the world is largely unprepared for a massive virus outbreak, amid fears that deadly H7N9 strain could morph into a form that spreads easily among people.
Despite efforts since the 2009-10 H1N1 avian influenza outbreak, Fukuda said far more contingency planning was needed. Rapid-reaction systems were crucial, given that health authorities' efforts are already hampered by lack of knowledge about such diseases, he insisted.
"When people get hit with an emerging disease, you can't just go to a book and know what to do," he said.