Authorities in Shanghai halted the sale of live birds and slaughtered all poultry at a market where the H7N9 avian influenza virus was detected in pigeons being sold for meat. 

The H7N9 avian influenza strain has killed six people and caused 16 people to get sick, along the eastern seaboard in its first known infections of humans.

Health officials believe people are contracting the virus through direct contact with infected birds and say there has been no evidence so far that the virus is spreading easily between people. However, scientists are watching closely to see if the flu poses a substantial risk to public health or could potentially spark a global pandemic.

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The Agriculture Ministry confirmed with reporters that the H7N9 virus had been detected in live pigeons on sale at a produce market in Shanghai. The slaughter of birds at the Huhuai market in Shanghai started April 4, responding to an order from the city's agriculture committee.

Experts urged Chinese health authorities to keep testing healthy birds, saying the H7N9 virus can infect birds without causing them to become ill, making it harder to detect than the H5N1 avian influenza virus that is more familiar to Asian countries.

The city of Shanghai also announced a suspension of the sale of live poultry to begin on April 6.