seventh person died in on Sunday from a new strain of deadly bird flu, the H7N9 virus, that has infected at least 24 people in eastern China. That means about 30 per cent of those with severe infections die, which is relatively high, Yanzhong Huang, director of global health studies at Seton Hall University, told Bloomberg News on Monday.
The strain currently only spreads from bird to human.
The key worry now is that H7N9 could mutate and begin spreading from human to human, though no cases have been reported yet.
There’s is a concern, however, that milder cases of bird flu have been going undetected.
Laurie Garrett, senior editor for the Council on Foreign Relations, pointed out on Twitter that even patients who are seriously ill test “weakly positive.” That means people could have the virus, but not know it until they begin showing violent flu-like symptoms. By then, it can be too late.
Additionally, China expert Victor Shih also said that patients are deterred from getting treated because of the outrageous hospital fees.
The world first became aware of the new bird flu strain, previously unknown in humans, when the Chinese government announced at the end of March that two people had died after being infected with the H7N9 virus.
The first victims included an 87-year-old man in Shanghai, who died on March 4, and a 27-year-old man who died on March 10.
Patients infected with H7N9 suffer from severe flu-like symptoms: fevers, coughs, problems breathing, and later developing pneumonia. About a 30 per cent of those with severe infections die.
Here, Taiwan's Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta inspects a hospital room in preparation for accepting patients suffering from H7N9 virus.
More than 20,000 birds were slaughtered at a poultry market on April 5 after the H7N9 virus was detected in pigeon samples.
The birds included chickens, ducks, geese, and pigeons. At this point, there were 14 reported infections, six of them resulting in death.
Poultry markets like this one in Wuhan, Hubei province, were closed for live poultry trading on Monday, April 8.
There's no vaccination for H7N9 yet, but chickens are still being vaccinated for the H5N1 bird flu, which is still circulating.
Chinese health authorities say the bird flu cases are isolated and there is no indication that it can be spread from human to human.
It is likely, however, that many cases are going unreported because of faulty tests or patients who are deterred by hospital fees.
The good news is that China's response is better than compared to 10 years ago when the country was dealing with the deadly SARS virus, Yanzhong Huang, director of global health studies at Seton Hall University, told Bloomberg News on Monday.
There are currently no vaccines against H7N9, but authorities believe the risk to public health is low since is cannot be spread from human to human, yet.
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