New Bird Flu

There’s currently no reason for anyone to panic over the new H7N9 virus that has infected a handful of people in China.

The World Health Organization has not recommended any travel restrictions for people leaving or entering China, nor is there any evidence to suggest any products from China are contaminated.

“We do not yet know enough about these infections to determine whether there is a significant risk of community spread,” WHO stated in a release Friday. “This possibility is the subject of epidemiological investigations that are now taking place.”

If you’ve spent time hanging out with infected live pigeons in Shanghai over the last week and you have a compromised immune system from another illness, you may want to go to a hospital. The rest of the world, however, has no logical reason to panic.

What Is the H7N9 Virus?

H7N9—or avian influenza A—is a variation of the H7-type viruses that typically only affect birds, but certain variations can occasionally infect humans.

The first case of human H7N9 were announced on Monday, making it the first time the virus has been detected in humans.

The World Health Organization states that some of the confirmed cases had contact with the animals or animal environment, such as chicken coops. The virus was detected in a pigeon in a public market in Shanghai, but authorities have yet to determine how the person became infected.

Like the H1N1 virus that caused the “swine flu” pandemic in 2009, the H7N9 virus is considered an animal flu virus that can occasionally infect people.

The virus causes severe respiratory illness and is especially dangerous for people with a compromised immune system, such as the elderly, young children, and people with prior illnesses. Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, all which can progress to severe pneumonia.

While there’s no vaccine available, laboratory testing in China has shown the H7N9 virus is sensitive to current flu drugs used on similar viruses when given early in infection. However, experts aren’t sure how effective current flu treatments would work on the virus.

Six Dead in China

Sixteen people have been confirmed as infected with the H7N9 virus in China, including six deaths as of Friday morning.

The deaths attributed to the virus involve mostly men, one woman, and a four-year-old boy in China. All of the victims had compromised immune systems due to a pre-existing illness, according to the latest alert from the WHO.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control stated that no human-to-human transmission has been reported and the cases do no appear to have a common link to one another. Chinese officials are investigating the possible origin and mechanism as to how the disease has spread.

More than 520 people have been in close contact with the infected individuals and Chinese authorities are monitoring their symptoms. They are also reviewing any recently reported cases of severe respiratory infection to search for any other H7N9 cases that may have gone unnoticed, WHO reported.

As a precautionary measure, Chinese authorities have killed more than 20,000 birds in public markets to reduce potential threat in the country. However, authorities have not yet been able to confirm how the virus spread to humans.

Use Your Head and Stay Safe

Like any flu virus—including the seasonal flu viruses seen every year in the U.S.—basic precautionary measures can help reduce a person’s risk of spreading the disease.

This includes following basic flu prevention:

  • Washing your hands regularly, including before preparing food and after using the restroom or public transportation
  • Covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing
  • Avoid touching sensitive areas, such as your eyes, nose or mouth
  • Avoid close contact with infected people

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