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Chinese pigeon group stops races amid bird flu

BEIJING (AP) -- A Chinese pigeon association has decided to temporarily stop racing the prized birds, while advising members to keep their pets caged for up to two months to try to prevent infection with a bird flu virus that has recently been found in people for the first time.

The Hangzhou Carrier Pigeon Association said Monday it will also inoculate up to 90,000 pigeons with a vaccine that protects against types of bird flu other than the new H7N9 strain, since no vaccine exists for it yet. It was unclear what vaccine they would use, and the Xinhua News Agency quoted a pigeon association member as saying the move was primarily meant to ease public concern.

Raising carrier pigeons, also called homing pigeons, is a popular hobby among Chinese.

Pigeons became a source of worry after live birds in Shanghai were found infected with the H7N9 strain. At least 24 people have been sickened by it, and seven have died since the first cases were announced just over a week ago.

The H7N9 virus is believed to circulate in poultry stocks without sickening birds, making it harder for experts to identify and eliminate outbreaks in birds. However, experts say there is no evidence that the virus is spreading from person to person.

Shanghai and the capital cities of neighboring provinces Zhejiang and Jiangsu, which have all reported H7N9 cases, have halted the sale of live poultry. Shanghai also slaughtered all fowl at a market where the virus was detected in pigeons being sold for meat.