Bird Flu

It’s Chinese New Year and a concern is circulating amongst the global health community. After an increase in the number of H7N9 bird flu deaths in China, WHO has warned all countries to watch for outbreaks in poultry flocks and to promptly report any human cases.

Several strains of avian flu (bird flu) are spreading in Europe and Asia this winter, but the most worrisome at present is an H7N9 strain that has circulated in China every winter since 2013. China has reported over 225 human cases since September – a higher than normal number. As the Lunar New Year vacation, has begun, live poultry shipments have increased, and holiday travelers often spread the flu.

WHO announced last week that China had had more than 1,000 cases of H7N9 bird flu in the last four years and 39 percent of those cases were fatal.

The flu typically infects people who raise, sell, slaughter or cook poultry, but human-to-human transmission is suspected in two cases that worry health officials. Both were older men with a history of poultry contact. One apparently infected a daughter who cared for him, and the other his hospital roommate.

Hong Kong’s health department issued a warning to citizens traveling to mainland China for the holiday to avoid live poultry markets. More than 9 percent of samples from markets in nearby Guangdong Province contained H7N9 virus, a “substantial” reading/

Swabs are typically taken in cages, sewage gutters, feeding troughs, and chopping and de-feathering machines.

Avian flu is a major issue around the globe…since November, nearly 40 countries have reported finding potentially dangerous flu strains in poultry flocks or in captured or dead wild birds. They include a new H5N6 strain, H5N8 and H5N5.

There have also been sporadic cases of H5N1, a strain with a 60 percent fatality rate that caused great alarm more than a decade ago. It has caused almost 400 confirmed deaths since 2003, but has not evolved the ability to transmit easily between people.

Dust off your pandemic plan and be ready – things could shift anytime.