Sixteen people have been confirmed as infected with the new H7N9
("Bird Flu") virus in China, including six deaths as of Friday morning.
The deaths attributed to the virus involve four men, one
woman, and a four-year-old boy in China. All of the victims had compromised
immune systems due to a pre-existing illness, according to the latest alert
from the World Health Organization (WHO).
As a precautionary measure, Chinese authorities have killed more
than 20,000 birds in public markets to reduce potential threat in the
country. However, authorities have not yet been able to confirm how the virus
spread to humans.
Should you be worried?
There’s currently no reason for anyone to panic over the H7N9 virus. The WHO has not recommended any travel
restrictions for people leaving or entering China, nor is there any evidence to
suggest any products from China are contaminated.
“We do not yet know enough about these infections to
determine whether there is a significant risk of community spread,” WHO
stated in a release Friday. “This possibility is the subject of
epidemiological investigations that are now taking place.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that no
human-to-human transmission has been reported and the cases do no appear to
have a common link to one another. Chinese officials are investigating the
possible origin and mechanism as to how the disease has spread.
More than 520 people have been in close contact with the
infected individuals and Chinese authorities are monitoring their symptoms.
They are also reviewing any recently reported cases of severe respiratory
infection to search for any other H7N9 cases that may have gone unnoticed, WHO
If you’ve spent time hanging out with infected live pigeons
in Shanghai over the last week and you have a compromised immune system from
another illness, you may want to go to a hospital. The rest of the world,
however, has no logical reason to panic.
H7N9—or avian influenza A—is a variation of the H7-type
viruses that typically only affect birds, but certain variations can
occasionally infect humans.
The first case of human H7N9 were announced on Monday,
making it the first time the virus has been detected in humans.
The WHO states that some of the confirmed cases had contact
with the animals or animal environment, such as chicken coops. The virus was
detected in a pigeon in a public market in Shanghai, but authorities have yet
to determine how the person became infected.
Like variations H1N1 virus that caused the “swine flu”
pandemic in 2009, the H7N9 virus is considered an animal flu virus that can occasionally
The virus causes severe respiratory illness and is
especially dangerous for people with a compromised immune system, such as the
elderly, young children, and people with prior illnesses. Symptoms include
fever, cough, and shortness of breath, all which can progress to severe pneumonia.
While there’s no vaccine available, laboratory testing in
China has shown the H7N9 virus is sensitive to current flu drugs used on
similar viruses when given early in infection. However, experts aren’t sure how
effective current flu treatments would work on the virus.