Friday April 3, 2020

April 11, 2013

For the past two weeks, the cover story of every Chinese newspaper has been about the H7N9 avian influenza, also known as the bird flu. Of the 38 reported cases of human infections, ten have died. Chinese citizens are increasingly concerned about whether the disease can be contracted through human-to-human contact. Although cases so far have been from human exposure to infected poultry, Chinese officials are currently examining the possibility of transmission between people.

Source of Outbreak

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Science’s Laboratory of Pathogenic Microbiology and Immunology say the H7N9 virus “has origins in wild migratory birds and domestic ducks and chickens.” This new type of bird flu is the result of a genetic mix between wild birds that migrate from South Korea to the Yangtze River Delta region, who carry the N9 gene virus, mixed with the H7 gene virus found in ducks from the eastern province of Zhejiang. The disease had previously only affected birds, and not humans, until this recent series of patients admitted to the hospital this month with symptoms of the virus.


Major Concerns and Actions Taken

Many farmers remain unaware when H7N9 spreads to their flock of farm birds, such as chicken and ducks, because the animals do not die off. Signs of the virus are very difficult to detect in animals. The first human infection was reported on March 1. Symptoms of the virus are very similar to the regular flu. If the patient is not given treatment after five days of showing flu symptoms, the virus leads to severe respiratory problems. The bird flu is not related to the H1N1 outbreak in 2009 and pigs are not infected by the H7N9 virus.

While many people had contact with the patients, none of them have shown symptoms of the virus. This is a sign that the bird flu outbreak will likely not be as bad as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak that originated in Southern China a decade ago, infecting 8000 people and killing at least 775 people worldwide. With China’s high population density, people-to-people spread of a virus like H7N9 could be catastrophic.

There is concern that the virus will spread to Taiwan due to its proximity to the mainland and the large number of travelers between the two regions. It is unclear, at the moment, whether the two countries will work together to develop anti-virus vaccines, but both countries are actively taking preventive measures to stop the spread of the virus.

The Chinese government is culling thousands of birds to reduce the spread of the virus. With the majority of the infections reported in Shanghai, Anhui, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang, many of these provinces have closed down poultry markets. Not only have sales of poultry in markets decreased, restaurants that carry mostly chicken menu items such as KFC have also suffered.

The bird flu virus is the newest instance of China’s continuing food safety problems. For example, just last month thousands of pig corpses were found in China’s HuangPu River.

For further information on the spread of H7N9 Avian Influenza in China, please see the following news resources and commentary:

CaixinFlu Genes Linked South Korean, Chinese Birds

CNN– “Nine dead in China bird flu outbreak, officials probe family ‘clusters’

Epoch Times– “New SARS virus swift and deadly, studies show

The China Post– “President urges cross-strait H7N9 vaccine development

Xinhua– “China reports another H7N9 death, infections rise to 38

Xinhua-“Better biosecruity, hygiene needed to combat H7N9:FAO experts

Xinhua– “First H7N9 patient discharged from hospital, more recovering

For Chinese language news on the spread of H7N9 Avian Influenza in China, please see the following news resources and commentary:

WorldJournal (世界新闻网)– “大陸H7N9確診38例 10死

Caixin(财新网)– “卫生计生委详细界定H7N9高危人群

Xinhua(新华网)– “中科院:H7N9来自野鸟和鸡群基因重配

Baidu (百度) – “H7N9型禽流感

Compiled and edited by Xi Gao