Scientists have confirmed what they believe to be the 150th human case of H7N9 avian influenza, commonly referred to as the “bird flu,” diagnosed since last spring. A 34-year-old Chinese woman is the most recently diagnosed. She is reported as hospitalized in critical condition.
According to the Hong Kong Center for Health Protection (CHP) in its press release from Jan. 5, of the 150 confirmed cases of H7N9 avian influenza since last sprig, 146 have been reported out of mainland China, with 45 of those resulting in death. Hong Kong and Taiwan are each reporting two “imported” cases of the disease.
A report has also come out of southern China’s Guangdong Province this week indicating that goose meat and sewer water samples taken from a market there have tested positive for H7N9 avian influenza, indicating the possibility of an increased threat.
The Guangdong Provincial Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) describes the situation at the market as “serious,” in part because the longer that the birds are kept in close quarters in the market, the higher the risk of the infection spreading among them and then on to their human counterparts. The market has been shut down for three days pending investigation of the source of the infected birds. More than a dozen employees working in the market’s poultry booths are being closely observed for symptoms of avian influenza. So far no cases of infection have been reported among them, though a total of six cases of human H7N9 avian influenza have been confirmed in Guangdong Province so far this flu season.
There is no information available at this time as to how the most recent victim of avian influenza may have become infected.
The H7N9 strain of avian influenza was first recognized in humans in China in March, 2013. H7N9 avian influenza has not been identified as spreading on a large scale basis between people. Instead, the disease is typically spread through contact with infected animals, typically birds, as the name would suggest, but less frequently through contact with pigs as well. H7N9 contaminated environments can also be to blame for its spread, such as that identified at the Guangdong Province market.
Avian influenza is particularly deadly in humans, contracting the H7N9 strain results in death for about one-third of those infected. Avian influenza typically presents as a severe respiratory illness, eye infections, sore throat, muscle aches and fever are also common. There is currently no vaccine available to protect against H7N9 avian influenza. Treatment involves the use of a drug like Tamiflu, and is most effective when given quickly after symptoms first appear.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there have been no cases of H7N9 contamination in people or animals confirmed in the United States at this time, but cautions that it could happen so measures should be taken to avoid increasing the threat of disease. The CDC suggests that travelers to China be diligent in their practice of good hand hygiene and be particularly cognizant of food safety. The CDC recommends avoiding contact with live animals and markets where they may be present and further stresses the importance of seeking medical attention immediately if sickness develops while traveling in China or shortly thereafter.
By Michele Wessel