Experts Concerned Over Bird Flu

H7N9 bird flu in China is a serious concern as poultry markets shut down

(RxWiki News) Cases of the H7N9 avian influenza have so far mostly stayed within Chinese borders, with only one case discovered outside of the mainland in Taiwan.

Experts worldwide are watching the developments closely, and this week several expressed concerns that bird flu is a threat to world health to be taken seriously.

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According to the Financial Times, John McCauley, PhD, director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Influenza at the UK National Institute for Medical Research said that the WHO “considers this to be a very unusual event.”

Dr. McCauley cited the 20 percent mortality rate that has been seen in the bird flu cases, and highlighted uncertainty regarding possible human-to-human transmission.

The latest counts from WHO show that 128 people have been infected with H7N9, and 26 of those patients have died.

WHO’s latest update maintained, “So far, there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission.”

As previously reported by dailyRx News, it seems likely that most patients could have contracted H7N9 after contact with poultry. But a variety of experts have warned that future mutation of the virus to allow for transmission between people is a possibility.

According to the Financial Times, tracking the flu in poultry has been difficult, because the virus “has little or no effect on birds.” This differs from the H5N1 strain which has caused 374 human deaths over the past 10 years and is more easily tracked because of the severe symptoms it creates in domestic birds.

The Financial Times reported that Jeremy Farrar, flu expert from the Wellcome Trust Overseas Programme in Vietnam, said, “H7N9 has been found in birds in all 31 Chinese provinces...This has to be taken seriously but calmly.”

As officials and experts move to get the virus under control, there is a possibility that shutting down poultry markets has caused a slowing in the number of new cases.

“Transmission of bird flu to humans slowed after China restricted live poultry sales in cities with the most H7N9 infections, with no new cases in Shanghai since April 13, a week after the financial hub ordered markets to shut,” Bloomberg News reported.

According to Bloomberg News, Richard Webby, of a WHO flu research center at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, said, “It looks like the human infections can be reduced with temporary management of the markets, but this isn’t a long term solution.”

Webby stressed the need for experts to better understand “...the specific animal hosts, numbers infected, and mode of transmission between markets,” along with the main virus reservoir, Bloomberg News reported.

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Review Date: 
May 3, 2013