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A researcher examines a variety of flu viruses at the Taiyuan Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Shanxi province in January. WEI LIANG/CHINA NEWS SERVICE

A new wave of flu outbreaks may occur in China in March, but it will be not as serious as the one that hit many parts of the country earlier this winter, an official from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday.

Judging from past experience, smaller peaks of the flu are likely next month, triggered by the change of seasons and heavy population flows after the traditional Chinese New Year holiday, Dong Xiaoping, director of the CDC"s global public health center, said at a news conference.

"However, it is almost certain the next peak will be smaller than the first," he said.

Mass population migrations - mainly migrant workers going back to their city jobs after the holiday, coupled with students going back to school after the winter vacation - are expected next month, and disease control centers across China are closely monitoring for viruses to forestall major outbreaks, Dong said.

"The National Health and Family Planning Commission and related authorities have made preparations," he said. "Flu outbreaks in China will continue, but it is not possible for them to develop into a major epidemic like the Spanish flu pandemic between 1914 and 1918."

China was hit by its worst flu epidemic in recent years this winter, and respiratory departments at major hospitals in many cities found themselves short staffed. More than 273,000 cases were reported in January on the Chinese mainland, including 56 deaths, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

The number of reported flu cases on the Chinese mainland in January last year was a little over 30,000. It was 23,300 in January 2016.

The commission has said that the peak season would last until the end of January, when school vacations began. Wang Hesheng, vice-minister in charge of the commission, said earlier this month that the intensity of the flu has declined across China.

A new wave of flu could hit China in March, and the public should take precautionary measures, including vaccinations, Zhong Nanshan, head of the National Clinical Research Center for Respiratory Disease in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, said in January.

The new wave may coincide with a wave of human cases of H7N9 bird flu, which is most active between January and March and may have more serious consequences, he warned.

CDC"s Dong said on Tuesday that the two types of flu may coexist in March, but there is no sign that H7N9 would occur in a significant number of human cases anything close to the number of seasonal human flu infections.

"It may bring some challenges for disease control and prevention, but please be assured that health authorities are very experienced in dealing with such diseases," he said.

More than 1,500 human cases of bird flu have been reported on the Chinese mainland since 2013, including more than 600 deaths.


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