By Katie Nelson
Image credit: Shutterstock.
Authorities confirmed Thursday that another person has died from the H7N9 bird flu virus and five more people have been infected, bringing the total number of cases to 38 and the death toll to 10. Officials are now saying that some cases of the virus have shown a gene mutation, which may make them resistant to drugs currently available.
On Thursday the H7N9 avian flu virus claimed the life of a 74 year old retired man in Shanghai who was diagnosed with pneumonia on Tuesday and confirmed to have been infected with the H7N9 a day later.
An 83 year old woman and 68 year old man have also been confirmed as contracting the virus, and are currently being treated and stable, while a 31 year old man and 56 year old woman in Jiangsu have been hospitalized and are in a critical condition.
Under great public pressure and a global media microscope, scientists and health experts have been “racing against the clock” to study the virus.
A gene mutation known to help resist Tamiflu, one of the drugs recommended for treating H7N9, was found in the first of three H7N9 specimens from a Shanghai patient. The mutation, known as R292K, causes high-level resistance to the Roche-made drug and reduced sensitivity to a related drug from GlaxoSmithKline, Relenza, also recommended for treating H7N9 patients, according to information posted on the website of the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data.
However, a statement released by the World Health Organization (WHO) says there is so far no concrete evidence that the H7N9 strain has developed a resistance to Tamiflu and Relenza.
Many media outlets are pointing out that China’s response to the HN9 outbreak has shown vast improvement from the way the nation’s officials handled the SARS outbreak a decade ago*. Says CBS News:
The contrast shows a new, though still evolving, openness in China that was learned from the SARS debacle, which devastated the government’s credibility at home and abroad. It also reflects the demands of a more prosperous and educated citizenry for information and its use of social media to get it.
However, while experts are working against a ticking clock to research the virus and produce new drugs, so far only one person, a four year old boy from Shanghai, has made a confirmed full recovery.
Health experts warn that production of a vaccine could take many months.
*Admittedly not a very high bar whatsoever.