Here we go again! Hong Kong officials have confirmed the first human case of the deadly H7N9 bird flu and have raised its pandemic response level to “serious”. This comes after an outbreak of the deadly virus earlier this year. The World Health Organization reports there were 139 H7N9 infections in China as of November 6, 2013 and 45 deaths since April.
The H7N9 strain of bird flu (avian influenza) made its first jump from chickens to humans in March of this year. H7 viruses are primarily found in birds however this strain, never seen in people before, appears to have mutated to make it better adapted to infecting mammals. This raises serious concerns.
Officials say that the H7N9 virus doesn’t appear to have the ability to jump from human to human. The recent case reported, a 36 year old female was hospitalized in serious condition and four family members have fallen ill showing signs of the virus. While more research is needed to understand the H7N9 bird flu and its method of operation, it appears that those infected with the virus have the ability to infect those people who come in close contact.
In the past, the H5N1 strain of bird flu was of concern and it’s not clear yet if the new H7N9 strain of the virus is deadlier as this strain has undergone genetic changes.
All of the numbers of the different strains of bird flu are confusing. Researchers, the world over, have warned of a possible world pandemic of bird flu. The question now is what strain will it be? What was determined to be a bird flu virus strain, H7N9, not transmissible to humans, has reared its ugly head and become genetically different than previously known. It has adapted itself to infect humans.
There have been no reported cases of the H7N9 bird flu in the U.S. So far the virus has been reported in China and Taiwan. World travel could change this in a matter of days. Those traveling to Asia should report any illness with respiratory or flu like symptoms to their doctors.
Many attribute outbreaks of bird flu to concentrated animal production whereby tens-of-thousands of animals are raised in confined conditions becoming a breeding ground for disease. Historically, the vast majority of bird flu outbreaks in the U.S. have occurred at these types of operations.
One has to wonder if there is a warning here. At the risk of making myself susceptible for commitment to the loony bin, I have to question if altering the natural order of things has resulted in unintended consequences? Thinking about this brings to mind an old television commercial for Oleo margarine that said “it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature”!