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World experts to help China with bird flu investigation

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Officials from the Centre for Food Safety get a blood sample from a chicken imported from mainland China at a border checkpoint in Hong Kong April 11, 2013. (Reuters)

An international team of flu experts will go to China within a week to help with investigations into the deadly H7N9 virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

The new strain of avian flu has killed 14 among 63 people known to have been infected, but no human-to-human spread of the virus has been confirmed.

China confirmed on Saturday a seven-year-old child had been infected by the virus in the capital Beijing, the first case outside the Yangtze river delta region in eastern China where the new strain emerged last month.

A team of eight experts - four from the WHO - are going in response to a request from Chinese health authorities, a spokesman for the U.N. agency said.

"They will look at the situation on the ground and try to get a bit more understanding of the behavior of the virus and what kind of investigations should be done," Gregory Hartl told Reuters in Geneva on Tuesday.

No exact date has been set yet for the arrival of the team which is expected to hold talks in Beijing and visit affected provinces, he said.

But the mission - made up of American, European, Australian and Chinese experts - is expected to go within a week and will carry out a week-long study, another WHO spokesman, Glenn Thomas, said later during a news briefing.

In a statement issued late on Monday, the WHO said more than 1,000 close contacts of the people confirmed as having H7N9 were being closely monitored for symptoms. "So far, there is no evidence of ongoing human-to-human transmission," it said.

The WHO has praised the response of Chinese authorities in stepping up disease surveillance and conducting retrospective testing of people who had respiratory illnesses of unknown origin.

Another U.N. agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization, is also working with Beijing to investigate the source of the virus, including poultry markets.

"Poultry markets have been the focus of attention. This mission will be looking into this as a key target in its research," Thomas said.

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