bird flu china
Employees dispose of uninfected dead birds at a treatment plant as part of preventive measures against the H7N9 bird flu in Guangzhou in the Guangdong province of China April 16, 2013. Reuters

A new H7N9 bird flu infection has shown up in a 54-year-old man in China’s eastern Jiangsu province, raising the total number of reported infections to 88, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency on Friday.

An average of 4.4 infections a day has emerged since the first three cases were reported by Hong Kong’s Department of Health. Seventeen people have died. The man, identified only by his surname, Chen, was in critical condition.

The new mutation of the avian influenza virus raises particular concern because poultry may not show symptoms of illness before passing the potentially fatal virus to humans.

There’s no evidence the virus has been spread by human-to-human contact, making containing the spread of the virus easier through poultry-market inspections and other measures. This week, health officials in Taiwan ordered butchers to stop live-slaughtering in traditional markets.

The spread of the virus has caught the attention of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who on Friday ordered regional health officials to place high priority on containing the spread of the infection, which has shown up in six of the country’s 34 provinces.