WHO Considers Sending Team to China to Investigate H7N9 Bird Flu

The World Health Organization is considering sending backup to investigate the outbreak.

A policeman stands guard as Chinese health workers collect the bags of dead chickens at Huhuai wholesale agricultural market in Shanghai, April 5, 2013.

A policeman stands guard as health workers collect bags of dead chickens at an agricultural market in Shanghai on April 5, 2013.

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At least three more people have been infected with the H7N9 bird flu virus in China, bringing the total number of cases to 24 over the past several weeks, according to the World Health Organization. The group is reportedly considering sending a team to help China investigate the new virus strain.

So far, seven of the 24 people infected with the virus have died, and several more are in critical condition. Health experts are monitoring more than 530 "close contacts" of infected people, though so far there is "no evidence of ongoing human-to-human transmission," which would be required for the disease to reach pandemic levels.

[RELATED: China Slaughters Chickens as Bird Flu Strain Spreads]

"Any animal influenza virus that develops the ability to infect people is a theoretical risk to cause a pandemic," the organization says. "However, whether the [H7N9] virus could actually cause a pandemic is unknown. Other animal influenza viruses that have been found to occasionally infect people have not gone on to cause a pandemic."

The organization "advises against any restrictions to trade [with China] at this time" and says it's generally safe to travel to China.

At a news conference in Beijing Monday, Michael O'Leary, head of WHO's China office, said the organization is monitoring the situation closely and wants to "make sure that [WHO] serve[s] as liaison and linkage between China and the rest of the world." It is currently considering sending experts to assist the country's health organization monitor the outbreak.

People infected with the virus have had "severe pneumonia," although health experts believe there may be additional undetected cases in people with milder symptoms.

Health experts are still unsure how the virus has made the jump from birds to humans, but many of the infected people have "had contact with animals." The virus has been detected in pigeons at a market in Shanghai.

"The possibility of animal-to-human transmission is being investigated, as is the possibility of person-to-person transmission," the organization says.

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