To Avoid Difficulties Experienced During SARS Epidemic, China Must Remain Transparent In H7N9 Efforts

“On this 10th anniversary of China’s April 2003 admission that the SARS virus had spread across that country … Beijing finds itself once again in a terrible position via-a-vis the microbial and geopolitical worlds,” Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes in a Foreign Policy opinion piece, noting the emergence of a new strain of bird flu, H7N9, in the country. “In both the SARS and current H7N9 influenza cases, China watched the microbe’s historic path unfold during a period of enormous political change. And the politics got in the way of appropriate threat assessment,” she states. She recounts the events leading to the SARS outbreak, noting the country’s delay in reporting the outbreak to the international community, and writes, “Today, with the future path of the new influenza still uncertain, Beijing faces conundrums similar to those it confronted after publicly admitting to SARS.”

Garrett provides an overview of the emergence of the H7N9 strain, detailing many of the cases to date, and discusses China’s response thus far. She notes “the new H7N9 virus is officially designated by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization [as] LPAI, or ‘low pathogenicity avian influenza,’ because it causes no apparent life-threatening disease in birds,” comparing it to other flu viruses, such as the H1N1 swine flu virus and the H5N1 avian flu virus. However, she says the H7N9 virus has undergone various mutations that might affect how it spreads among mammals. “The total number of infections now stands at 109,” she writes, concluding, “If China hopes to avoid the shame it experienced after covering up the SARS epidemic a decade ago, the government and the party will take the high road — that’s the one that shares … timely information transparently with the entire world” (4/24).

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