The first time most of us heard the term “bird flu” was in 2003 when the H5N1 strain sprang up in Hong Kong. Since then, the panic about bird flu has mostly subsided in this part of the world where no signs of the illness have appeared in either birds or humans. But Asia and parts of the Middle East have seen 600 human infections, with nearly 60 percent of those cases proving fatal. Now, there’s a new strain – the H7N9 virus – and scientists are saying this one is also a serious threat to world health, possibly even more so than H5N1.
The H7N9 virus has so far infected 127 people in China and one man from Taiwan who had visited China. As it stands, 26 people have recovered after contracting the disease, but 27 have died and many more are hospitalized in serious condition.
It’s been confirmed that the virus is spread from chickens, ducks, and captive-bred pigeons to humans, but there’s no evidence at this time of human-to-human transmission. Some of the infected patients have interacted with animals or environments where animals are kept, but not all. So, it’s not clear yet if infection requires being in the presence of infected or dead birds.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is on heightened alert, calling the H7N9 “one of the most lethal” flu viruses. So far, the symptoms identified as associated with H7N9 are severe pneumonia, with fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The WHO is recommending proper hygiene to prevent transmission of the virus, including taking the following steps:
- Wash your hands before, during, and after you prepare food; before you eat; after you use the toilet; after handling animals or animal waste; when your hands are dirty; and when providing care when someone in your home is sick.
- Wash your hands with soap and running water when hands are visibly dirty; if hands are not visibly dirty, wash them with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand cleanser.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a medical mask, tissue, or a sleeve or flexed elbow when coughing or sneezing; throw the used tissue into a closed bin immediately after use; wash your hands after contact with respiratory secretions.
While no cases of H7N9 have been found in the US or anywhere outside of China and the one case in Taiwan, proper hygiene and proper preparation and handling of meat are always important. If you’ve traveled to China recently and are concerned about the bird flu, make an appointment to speak to your doctor.
Sources: yahoo.com and who.int