Health officials have reported 73 cases of people infected with H7N9 in China this January, making the total in the country 221.The bird flu initially infected domestic chickens and ducks back in 2013 but has now caused 57 human deaths. There have been few reported cases of the virus spreading from person to person and a WHO official suggests that it mainly circulates due to the present cold winter.
So far, the virus has not mutated but the WHO remains cautious due to increased travel by the millions for the Chinese New Year. The virus has already spread a large distance, further south and east to the Guangdong province. A WHO official suggests that the virus might be seasonal or possibly linked to the increased exposure to poultry as the nation prepares for the New Year.
Approximately 3.6 billion trips are estimated to occur during this holiday and this is dangerous due to the millions who will be purchasing or receiving poultry as gifts.
Humans acquire the virus when they are in close proximity to infected poultry, so anyone could potentially contract it at the street markets or just as easily at home during food preparations. Billions of Chinese will be traveling in trains or buses alongside their chickens for the two week holiday, which could possibly lead to more outbreaks.
Several health officials are worried about H7N9 because this strain does not make infected birds sick, so both farmers and customers are unaware of the danger. Other flu strains lead to the virus being released in feces while H7N9 is breathed out by the infected birds. The first H7N9 cases first reported in Shanghai last March but since then another 200 people became infected.
Transmission has occurred by family clusters versus person to person and scientists have discovered that it is due to genetic markers that allow easier infection to mammals.
People who become infected have severe flu symptoms such as high fever and respiratory problems. Many also have shortness of breath, muscular pain, and even pneumonia. Currently, there is no evidence that suggests that this virus may mutate and spread around the globe since reports don’t suggest simple human to human transmission.
Chinese authorities are investigating more cases because several reports suggest contaminated environments can also infect humans. Fear remains until the holiday is over as increased travel could lead to the virus mutating and quickly pass between people. The WHO remains vigilant for any mutations and does not advise travel.
– Maybelline Martez