It’s been in the news for several weeks now, a deadly new flu is spreading in China and officials aren’t sure how or why. Experts in the US are now preparing for an American invasion. This new strain, officially called avian influenza A H7N9, is the latest developing deadly flu strain – after H1N1 (also known as the swine flu) in 2009.
The H7N9 strain normally circulates among birds; however, the first human cases of the flu arose in Shandong Province on the eastern coast of China at the end of March, with the first death in early April. Currently, officials report that there are 108 confirmed cases of the H7N9 flu with 22 deaths.
Perhaps what’s most dangerous about the virus is our lack of knowledge of its transmission. So far, there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission. The flu is usually spread among birds, and experts are tracking down how the virus mutated and spread to humans.
Beijing and major eastern Chinese poultry markets have been shut down in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus. However, state media has indicated that more than 40% of persons with H7N9 have not handled poultry. Reuters has reported that China’s poultry sector has “recorded losses of more than $2.1 billion since the virus emerged.” China’s agricultural authorities have also reported finding the virus in local pigeon droppings, which may explain the otherwise random spread of the virus to humans, but more research needs to be done in order to find a definite connection.
While more information is being gathered, the World Health Organization has not announced any travel, trade restrictions or quarantine. However, the CDC has urged US hospitals to be on the lookout for symptoms of the bird flu – especially among patients who have recently traveled to China. In their recently published guidelines, they suggest physicians keep commonly utilized flu medications, like Tamiflu, handy to guard against the virus should it come to the United States.
Should you be alarmed? Currently, there’s no indication that this virus is headed to North America anytime soon. However, the best thing you can do is regularly wash your hands. Read Dr. Oz’s Cold and Flu Rescue Pack for more information on preventative methods.