The emergence of a new strain of bird flu in China has made headlines lately, with many people trying to make heads or tails of H7N9, while those in the medical field try to gather as much information as possible regarding this new version of the avian influenza. We recently reported on an interview given by Dr. Pedro Piedra of Texas’ Baylor College of Medicine on the new H7N9 bird flu, which sought to explain what is currently known about the new strain. As more information emerges, including no documented cases of human-to-human transmission, many of those in the research community are beginning to believe that there is “no immediate threat” from H7N9.
Texas A&M’s Dr. John Midturi, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the Health Science Center College of Medicine, in Temple, was recently quoted in an article that, while it “. . . is very early in the course of identification of human cases,” there is no indication of an immediate threat:
At this point, there’s no reason to believe that the emerging H7N9 strain of bird flu that has sickened at least 24 people and killed seven in China is cause for alarm, health officials in the United States say. For one thing, no cases of human-to-human transmission of the virus have yet been reported – a necessary precursor to a full-blown pandemic.
Looking for more information about H7N9? Read our info page: H7N9: What You Need To Know.
While many medical professionals are urging calm, there is still a lingering concern that, because this new strain of bird flu is somewhat different from those identified in the past, there are still many unknowns about the infection. “We do see something similar every few years with avian [bird] flu,” Richard Webby, who works out of St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in the field of infectious diseases, explains. “What’s making everyone a little bit more uneasy is that, looking at the sequence of the virus, it appears to have some mutations we think may indicate that the virus might have increased its ability to replicate in humans.”
Dr. Webby, like other health officials, is still quick to mention that there is no current evidence that H7N9 has the ability to pass from person to person, and that the strain would have to mutate in order to gain the ability to have that occur.