A new strain of bird flu has broken out in China, with deaths already multiplying as local officials attempt to stem the spread of this lethal virus. Is H7N9, the new bird flu strain, likely to reach the United States, or is there more smoke than fire in this most recent health scare?
What’s New With H7N9
The Chinese H7N9 outbreak started just a few weeks ago, and so far authorities have reported upwards of 82 individuals infected with this strain of influenza, with most of the cases originating in the Shanghai area. So far, death rates in the mid-to-high teens have been reported, but the number of H7N9 fatalities continues to climb each day.
The H7 group of influenza strains is generally transmitted among birds, but can occasionally jump to humans when they mutate. This most recent outbreak is the first time that the particular H7N9 strain has been seen in humans, joining a number of other flu variants that have crossed the species boundary, as you can see in this infographic.
Are You At Risk?
So far, no concrete evidence of human-to-human transmission of H7N9 has been found, but in recent days, there have been a few incidences of individuals contracting this flu strain without contact with birds. That said, there are a few other options – as seen in the infographic, this particular flu can infect pigs, and may have also mutated to infect other animals with which humans might have contact. Alternatively, the virus may be able to survive outside the bodies of birds, which could result in contraction of the strain even without physically touching or being close to a bird.
If H7N9 turns out to be transmissible by human-to-human contact, there is the risk, as with any new flu strain, that it could turn into a pandemic. As of yet, H7N9 infections have stayed within China, so those in other countries are safe for the time being – however, this could change at any time, so vigilance and flu-prevention techniques are always good practice.
For those traveling to China, avoiding poultry markets or any other areas where you might come into contact with birds is extremely wise, as are frequent hand washing and covering the face when coughing or sneezing.
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