Mysterious Avian Flu in China Raises Questions About Transmission
April 19, 2013
To date, there have been 87 confirmed cases of the H7N9 avian flu virus in southeastern China, and 17 people have died.
Researchers don’t know how the virus is spread, and there is currently no vaccination available. Government officials worldwide are taking steps to contain the virus, and public health experts are working feverishly to learn more about the virus and to develop a treatment regimen.
Avian flu is a virus that normally is transmitted from animals to humans, causing flu-like symptoms, such as in the case of the H5N1 virus, which has affected parts of Asia and the Middle East since 2003.
By contrast, experts are stumped as to how the new H7N9 virus spreads. An international panel of influenza experts arrived in Beijing on Thursday, and will start investigating possible sources of the virus.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that 40 percent of infected people had not come into contact with poultry before contracting the virus, which raises questions about how the virus is passed.
Much mystery surrounds the H7N9 virus, and global public health officials and researchers have been quick to mobilize: last week, researchers in Japan and the U.S. published a study in the journal Eurosurveillance; the study found that some of the H7N9 viruses have mutated, improving the virus’ ability to bind to human cells, and causing them to be deadlier in humans than in birds. Another worrisome fact: CNN reported that a four year-old boy who tested positive for the avian flu virus exhibits no symptoms, which means that the spread of the virus may be hard to track.
What makes this particular avian flu virus more confusing is the fact that infected birds don’t always exhibit symptoms, making it harder to pinpoint possible sources of the virus. Researchers are currently looking at animals other than birds as possible sources of the virus.