New Chinese bird flu kills six; not very contagious says WHO

The outbreak of a new strain of the 'bird flu' virus in China has prompted active official response, even as the World Health Organization said the avian flu is not particularly contagious in human contact.

Six deaths have so far been reported; but WHO said there was no sign of ''sustained human-to-human transmission'' of the H7N9 virus.

The Hong Kong stock market tanked on Friday as there was concern overseas about the virus. The WHO finding as well as prompt action by Chinese authorities should allay fears of an epidemic, say commentators.

Gregory Hartl, spokesperson for WHO, told a news briefing in Geneva that China has 14 cases in a large geographical area, but there is no sign of an epidemiological linkage between the confirmed cases.

The UN organisation however added that it was important to check on 400 people who had been in close contact with the 14 confirmed cases.

''The 400 contacts are being followed up to see if any of them do have the virus, have had it from someone else,'' Hartl said.

Meanwhile, Chinese authorities slaughtered over 20,000 birds on Friday at a poultry market in Shanghai, where the H7N9 virus was detected in a pigeon.

A technician carried out a test on a suspected infected sample using the H7N9 bird flu virus test reagents at the centre for disease control and prevention in Hefei, Anhui province in China on Friday.

News of the outbreak dominated China's main internet portals. There were photographs of workers in white coveralls carrying out the culling in Shanghai and recommendations that people take banlangen, a popular herbal cold remedy.

Anxious residents have been crowding emergency rooms at the first sign of respiratory problems. And at a KFC restaurant in Beijing, employees stood idle as mounds of fried chicken went largely unsold.

''They say it's OK to eat cooked chicken, but I'd rather not take the chance,'' Zhang Minyu, 41, said as she coaxed her young son to order a soft-serve ice cream instead.