Here's What Happens When You Get the H7N9 Bird Flu

doctors hospital h7n9 bird flu girl sick

There are still many things we don’t know about the H7N9 bird flu that’s been infecting people all over China (and even Taiwan).

Here’s what we know happens when you get infected.

First contact
First, you come into contact with an animal infected with the virus. The virus seems to originally come from poultry, but it has adapted to be able to infect mammals and other birds, too.

We aren’t sure how many people are coming into contact with the virus — only about 40% remember having contact with poultry. They could be picking it up from other animals.

It may also be transmitted from human to human, but if it can, it doesn’t do it well yet.

We don’t know how long the virus sticks around in the body before showing symptoms. Once you get infected with the virus, you probably won’t notice for about a week. The virus seems to have a seven-day incubation time, though that may be different between people.

First symptoms appear
Fever and fatigue : When you do start showing symptoms expect a fever, sweating, and fatigue, but no respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms, which is what the Taiwanese patient experienced. Other cases, such as patient 8, developed diarrhoea as their first symptom.

The centres For Disease Control (CDC) suggest that symptoms start with a high fever and a cough.

Fever worsens
Four days later you will develop a high fever, sweating, and fatigue. You will definitely start feeling sick, and probably visit your doctor.

After another two days, an X-ray of your chest will shows signs of pneumonia — your lungs are getting inflamed and leaky in an effort to fight off the virus. Your symptoms worsen and it will get progressively more and more difficult to breathe.

Respiratory failure
The pneumonia leads to respiratory failure, which is when your inflamed lungs get so full of fluid that they can no longer perform their main function: exchanging carbon dioxide in your blood for oxygen in the air.

Your blood oxygen levels plummet and the carbon dioxide builds up in your blood, making it acidic.

To keep your brain and body from failing, you are put on a respirator, which pumps 100 per cent oxygen into your lungs with enough pressure to push it through the liquid that’s built up and preventing gas exchange.

You will be sedated while on the respirator.

Septic shock
As your lungs continue to fail and the virus wreaks havoc on your body, you go into septic shock as the virus invades your bloodstream. You will have a fever over 100 Fahrenheit, fast breathing (if you aren’t ventilated), a high heart beat, and your white blood cells will be going crazy.

Multiple organ dysfunction
The septic shock will cause multiple organ dysfunction syndrome as your body’s inflammatory response in its efforts to beat back the virus injures your organs. 

Eventually your body gives in and you die. 

The symptoms above are based on our current understanding of the virus, and they are only meant to be a representation of what is currently understood. If you have visited China recently, have been in contact with poultry, and are showing flu-like symptoms, visit your doctor immediately.

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.