H7N9 Bird Flu Is a ‘Serious Threat’ - Researchers Warn
The outbreak of a new type of bird flu in China poses a “serious threat” to human health, but it is still too soon to predict how far it will spread, experts have said.
Of the 126 people known to be infected so far, 24 have died, with many more still severely ill in hospital.
The H7N9 virus has not, however, yet proved able to spread between people - which limits its global threat.
The threat should be “treated calmly, but seriously”, researchers advised.
There is concern over both the pace and severity of the outbreak.
There has been a relatively high number of known infections since the first case was detected in April.
Prof John McCauley, the director of a World Health Organization (WHO) collaborating centre in the UK, said: “It is unusual to get these numbers.”
How the virus spreads is key. As long as it can spread only from a bird to a person through direct contact it posses a relatively small risk globally - particularly in richer countries where such contact is rare. If it can spread from one person to another then the threat becomes much more potent. This has not yet happened and it is impossible to tell whether it will happen tomorrow or never.
Of those infected, a fifth died, a fifth recovered and the rest are still ill. The infection results in severe pneumonia and even blood poisoning and organ failure.
“The WHO considers this a serious threat,” said Prof McCauley, “but we don’t know at this stage whether this is going to spread from human to human.”