The bird flu virus that is creating problems in China now might become even worse. A new strain has mutated and it has the potential to spread to mammals as well. The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention has shared the genetic sequence of the H7N9 virus so other scientists will be able to study how it will affect other animals.
While one scientist has said the sequence indicates it can possibly become a global epidemic, there is still no cause for alarm. According to Richard Webby, director of a World Health Organization flu center at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, at this stage, there is cause for concern but no reason to panic. He says the current sequence has genetic markers that might infect people so it’s more worrying than the H5N1 strain that came out 10 years ago. Dr. Masato Tashiro, director of the WHO’s influenza research center in Tokyo, is one of the experts closely studying this strain. The initial assessment is that it can cause human infection or even turn into an epidemic but it still hasn’t “adapted to humans completely” even though some factors have already changed.
This current strain is more capable of infecting pigs, and this is a more alarming kind of virus because it mingles and might produce an avian virus that has a more intensified rate of infecting human, according to Dr. William Schaffner, a flu expert at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Some have also observed that the H7N9 virus infects birds without noticeable symptoms and so it would be difficult to pinpoint the source of the infection to help stop the spread. Tashiro adds that if you can’t notice that the animals are infected, then the passing on of the virus from animal to human will not be obvious.
The H7N9 virus has infected nine people and killed three in China. Of these cases, only one woman was confirmed to have regular contacts with birds. University of Hong Kong microbiologist Malik Peiris is strongly urging authorities in China to test healthy birds in areas where the human infections have occurred.
[ via ABC News ]