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Urgent Warning of New Bird Flu H7N9: Could Pose Global Threat

Dozens of reported cases of a strain of avian influenza A are breaking out in urban China, with 11 deaths resulting. So far, the first few people who died of the virus had weakened immune function or other health problems that put them at a greater risk of complications. The bad news is this H7N9 strain causes acute respiratory infection in people (in birds, where it originates, the system affected is the digestive tract. Most bird with H7N9, however, show NO symptoms), systemic organ damage via sepsis, and encephalitis. There actually is no good news to report concerning this new flu threat. Upon research of H7N9, the news only gets worse. Researchers of infectious diseases are always on the look out for “the big one.” This refers to a contagious disease that spreads easily from person to person, does severe damage to the body, and has a high death rate among those it infects. As of April 12, 2013, china had 11 deaths due to this bird flu and 43 people infected. So far, this is a 20% mortality rate- definitely in the numerical parameters of what scientists would call “the big one.”

From this flu, it is thought (hoped) that the people who caught it did so from birds. Some of the infected, unfortunately, had had no contact with birds. The biggest fear is of viral mutations that would make the virus contractible between humans. It is not clear yet if mutations have occurred allowing this to happen. More bad news is that H7N9 seems to infect humans more easily than other bird flu strains. H7N9 is also untouched by vaccines previously developed against H7 flu strains. The US does not have assays that can detect this virus strain, although China claims to have developed one. A vaccine that will be effective against this strain of flu is expected within 7 months. The virus usually has people debilitated and hospitalized with severe respiratory infections within a few days time.

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