H7N9 Update: Bird Flu Resistant to Tamiflu Still in China

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The H7N9 virus is in it's second year as a known virus. Image by Cynthia S. Goldsmith and Thomas Rowe of the CDC.

The H7N9 virus is in it’s second year as a known virus. Image by Cynthia S. Goldsmith and Thomas Rowe of the CDC.

In March of 2013, the first human case of avian influenza, H7N9 occurred in China. Most people who have been diagnosed with this strain of the bird flu have had severe repiratory illness, with one-third of them dying.

However, the good news is that to date there is no sustained human-to-human transmission of the H7N9 virus. In other words, although people can catch this deadly virus from birds, it’s not contagious between other people.

H7N9 Bird Flu: History of the Virus

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during the first year that health officials detected the H7N9 virus in a person, there were 132 human infections, with 44 deaths.

Most of the cases started in April of 2013, by May of 2013, the frequency of cases died down. Then from June to September of 2013 the WHO only reported three new H7N9 infections.

Warmer weather and taking precautions, such as shutting down live poultry markets helped prevent new cases. Then by October of 2013 cases began picking up again when cooler weather arrived, just like it does with seasonal influenza. December, 2013 had sporadic cases of H7N9 infections, but nothing consistent or overly threatening.

Bird Flu Cases: Current Count

Now that we have entered the second year of this virus, there have been four new cases reported, according to Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. Animal health officials have also reported more environmental samples of H7N9 taken  from a live poultry market, which fuels human infection rates. Three of the current patients are in critical condition, and the fourth is in the hospital, condition unknown.

Traveling to China

Planning a trip to China? Check for travel warnings before you go. Image by Decoded Science

Planning a trip to China? Check for travel warnings before you go. Image by Decoded Science

According to the CDC and World Health Organization, there are no travel warnings advising travelers to avoid the area. The CDC offers travel warnings and watches to different countries about current health issues that are affecting that country.

So what risk is there to you at these levels? The CDC breaks it down. For countries that are issued a Level 1, travelers only have a baseline or slightly above normal risk of getting an illness. Taking normal precautions such as hand washing, should keep you from getting sick. For countries that are issued a Level 2, travelers have an “increased risk in defined settings or associated with specific risk factors.

This could mean that there is an outbreak of a disease in certain areas or that there was a natural disaster, such as a flood, that poses it’s own health problems. In countries that are issued a Level 3, travelers should avoid the area unless absolutely necessary as travelers are at a high risk.

As of December 2013, the CDC kept the Level 1 Watch for China because of the cases of H7N9. The CDC is advising travelers to China to practice good hand hygiene and food safety, to avoid contact with animals, and if you get sick after traveling to China, see a doctor immediately.

China, Bird Flu, and You

While there are no warnings advising travelers to avoid the area and there are no reports of sustained human-to-human transmission, it is still important to follow precautions. The H7N9 virus is rare, but leaves its victims with a severe upper respiratory infection that can lead to death.  There is no vaccine for this new virus and in some cases, it has shown to be resistant to Tamiflu.

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