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New Strain of Bird Flu Spreads

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New Strain of Bird Flu Spreads

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Rising infections of H7N9, a new bird flu virus strain, are causing alarm in eastern China where, as of this writing, the death toll has already reached 22 and more than 108 people have been infected.

STR/AFP/Getty Images
Investigation: Doctors at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention work in a laboratory in Beijing (April 16, 2013).

“‘That’s a fairly high mortality rate,’ Michael O’Leary, the WHO’s China representative, told reporters…Less severe cases may have escaped detection, he said. ‘What we don’t know is the size of the iceberg under this tip,’” Bloomberg reported.

A troubling question for many is whether the current bird flu strain has mutated to the point that it can be transmitted through human-to-human contact. Australian Broadcasting Company reported that “the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention says 40 per cent of patients with H7N9 had not come into contact with poultry, raising questions about how people are becoming infected. It also emerged that the virus had spread among family members in Shanghai, raising fears that it was passing between humans.”

The New York Times stated that “health experts consider the new outbreak potentially worrisome. The disease can cause great harm. Three of the earliest victims suffered severe pneumonia, respiratory failure, septic shock, brain damage, kidney failure and other major complications.”

Similarly, Bloomberg reported, “A new flu strain against which nobody has natural immunity could touch off a pandemic if it’s capable of spreading easily and efficiently among people, such as what happened in 2009, after a novel strain of swine flu, called H1N1, emerged in Mexico.”

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