Researchers Call H7N9 Bird Flu Strain ‘One Of The Most Lethal’; First Case Outside China Reported By Taiwan

“Chinese scientists have confirmed for the first time that a new strain of bird flu that has killed 23 people in China has been transmitted to humans from chickens,” Reuters reports. “In a study published online in the Lancet medical journal, the scientists echoed previous statements from the [WHO] and Chinese officials that there is as yet no evidence of human-to-human transmission” of the new virus, H7N9, which has infected 109 people, the news agency notes (Kelland, 4/25). The virus “is ‘one of the most lethal’ of its kind and transmits more easily to humans than an earlier strain that has killed hundreds around the world since 2003, a top health official has said,” Al Jazeera reports (4/24). In a preliminary report published online by the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday, researchers write, “To date, the mortality rate is 21 percent, but since many of [sic] patients with confirmed H7N9 virus infection remain critically ill, we suspect that the mortality may increase,” the Los Angeles Times’ “Science Now” blog reports (Kaplan, 4/25). “‘This is an unusually dangerous virus for humans,’ said Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general for health security of the [WHO], at a press conference in Beijing [on Wednesday],” Science Insider notes, adding, “From what is known so far, he added, H7N9 ‘is more easily transmissible from poultry to humans than H5N1’” (Hvistendahl/Normile, 4/24). Nature provides maps of the outbreaks in China (Butler, 4/24).

In related news, “Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control Wednesday reported its first case of human infection of the deadly H7N9 bird flu strain on the island, possibly making it also the first confirmed case outside of mainland China,” the Wall Street Journal reports (Hsu, 4/24). “Officials in Taiwan reported one case in a 53-year-old Taiwanese citizen who traveled regularly to the Chinese city of Suzhou for work, where he probably contracted the virus,” according to the New York Times, which adds, “The case has set off alarms in Taiwan, where the Central Epidemic Command Center says that it has ‘continued to strengthen surveillance and fever screening of travelers arriving from China'” (Feng/Grady, 4/24). “The first discovery of the virus outside China, 10 years after an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, may lead to increased scrutiny of travelers into and out of the country,” Bloomberg Businessweek notes (Culpan/Sun, 4/24). “U.S. health officials are also bracing for bird flu by preparing a vaccine, a process expected to take six months,” ABC News states (Moisse, 4/24). “‘The fastest we’d be able to have a vaccine to test in animals for H7N9 would probably be four to six weeks from now,’ [Joseph Kim, president of Inovio, a California-based company that is currently in the initial stages of developing an H7N9 vaccine] says,” U.S. News & World Report notes (Koebler, 4/24). The Washington Post examines a number of “good signs” and “bad signs” about the virus (Fisher, 4/24).

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