While U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden suggests there is no cause for panic over the new H7N9 bird flu strain taking off in China and that Americans should “go about their daily lives,” this unusually dangerous virus has health officials worldwide particularly concerned. According to the World Health Organization, the H7N9 bird flu virus is turning out to be one the most lethal influenza strains ever identified.
20% Kill Rate
The first case appeared in China in late February and has since spread to scores of others, with at least 109 cases having been reported to WHO thus far, 22 of which have resulted in death (CDC report 123 infections and 14 deaths). This amounts to a kill rate of about 20% and these numbers only represent reported laboratory confirmations, so there is a high likelihood that are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others who may be infected that haven’t received medical attention or have already died.
Moreover, as reported by WHO, half of the H7N9 cases identified are individuals who have had no prior contact with live poultry.
Thus far, most of the cases have been reported in east China's Shanghai Municipality as well as the provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui.
This week health officials in Taiwan confirmed the first case of the virus outside of China. The patient was originally hospitalized on April 12, but confirmation of the virus did not come until nearly two weeks later, suggesting that the official numbers and the reality on the ground could very well be much much worse.
While health officials have not yet made a public declaration that transmission between humans is confirmed, the South China Morning Post cites a frightening study that suggests the virus is mutating at an alarming rate. The study by a team of research scientists in Shenzhen indicates the new bird flu could be mutating up to eight times faster than an average flu virus around a protein that binds it to humans.
According to Dr He Jiankui of South University of Science and Technology of China, the authorities should be alarmed by the results of their research and step up monitoring and control efforts to prevent a possible pandemic.
In an odd twist, earlier this month, Colonel Dai Xu of the People's Liberation Army publicly stated that H7N9 was a bio-psychological weapon engineered by western powers and released in China in order to destabilize the region. The comment was carried widely in Chinese media outlets as well as some western news sources, though the Chinese government is downplaying the statement.
One of the greatest challenges world health authorities are facing, as has been experienced in the past, is that Chinese government officials are slow at providing specific details as well as the fact that there are significant delays between the time a patient enters the hospital and when the virus is confirmed as H7N9.
Further, just as here in the U.S. on a multitude of subjects, government officials, in an effort to prevent panic, will wait as long as possible before they disseminate information to the public.
To this end, AlertsUSA has added this topic to our priority threat board and will continue to monitor developments. As always, if there are changes to the outlook of the spread of the virus, AlertsUSA subscribers will be some of the first to know.