While U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden suggests there is no cause for panic over the H7N9 influenza strain and says that Americans, “go about their daily lives,” this unusually dangerous virus has concerned officials at the CDC to such an extent that they are rapidly working to develop an effective vaccine in the event it makes its way to North America.
According to the World Health Organization, the H7N9 bird flu virus is one the most lethal influenza strains ever identified. 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. This amounts to a kill rate of 20%. These are laboratory confirmations, so in all likelihood there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others who may be infected with the virus that haven’t received medical attention.
In the last 24 hours 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 are starkly different.
Moreover, as reported by WHO, half of the H7N9 cases identified are individuals who have had no prior contact with poultry.
If true, this would be strong evidence that H7N9 has already achieved “human-to-human transmission,” turning it into a “nightmare influenza” that might already be spreading across the population.
That status is not proven yet, however, and more observation is needed before such a conclusion could be substantiated.
“If H7N9 were to stably adapt to humans, it would probably meet with little or no human immunity,” writes Peter Horby from Nature.com. “Detecting and tracking a partially human-adapted H7N9 virus in a city as vast as Shanghai or Beijing would be difficult; tracking a fully adapted virus would be impossible. And it could easily spread nationally and internationally.”
Source: Natural News
While transmission between humans is not yet confirmed, the South China Morning Post cites a frightening study that suggests the virus is mutating at an alarming rate:
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, a team of research scientists in Shenzhen says.
Dr He Jiankui, an associate professor at South University of Science and Technology of China, said yesterday that the authorities should be alarmed by the results of their research and step up monitoring and control efforts to prevent a possible pandemic.
“It happened in just one or two weeks. The speed may not have caught up with the HIV, but it’s quite unusual for a flu.”
The fast mutation makes the virus’ evolutionary development very hard to predict. “We don’t know whether it will evolve into something harmless or dangerous,” He said. “Our samples are too limited. But the authorities should definitely be alarmed and get prepared for the worst-case scenario.“
It’s impossible for the general public to know how this virus has mutated. Government officials in China are not sharing any specific details, and as noted, there are significant delays between the time a patient enters the hospital and when the virus is confirmed as H7N9.
Furthermore, if this virus has become transmittable by way of human to human contact it’s likely that government officials, in an effort to prevent panic, will wait as long as possible before they disseminate information to the public.
There is not much we can do unless we know it’s coming. The evidence thus far indicates the virus is continuing to spread. We really don’t know if it has gone human-to-human, and we may not know until it’s too late.
The Chinese study cited above suggests that authorities start preparing for a worst-case scenario.
We suggests individuals do the same and take steps now to prepare for a pandemic.
Stay up to date with information as it becomes available. If it’s confirmed that humans can pass this to each other, then avoid densely populated areas, especially schools, sporting events or any public gatherings. A 20% kill rate is not something to gamble with, so avoiding external human contact should this go critical is key to survival.
With the ease of travel across the globe, it won’t take long at all for this virus to appear in every major city on the planet.
The Black Death wiped out nearly one-third of Europe’s population in the mid 1300′s (incidentally, this plague reportedly started in China). The Spanish Flu infected half a billion people across the globe and killed upwards of 50 million in the early 1900′s.
It’s only a matter of time before the next mass pandemic makes its way across the world, and all of our technological advancements and modern day implements will be powerless to stop it.
Hat tip Satori for reference links