Following up on yesterday’s headlines that a Shanghai doctor contracted the H7N9 avian flu and died, the World Health Organization has announced that human-to-human transmission of the virus might occur ‘sporadically’ in China. There is apparently “no need to panic,” at least not just yet.
The Shanghai doctor case is particularly troubling because, unlike most avian flu victims, the man had no contact with live poultry and his only interaction with the disease was via his infected patients. The biggest stumbling block preventing H7N9 from hitting epidemic proportions is its inability to infect humans without an animal vector, but the latest WHO report hints that this may be in for a change.
The WHO has said that the doctor’s case, as well as a few other represent, “only one cluster [where] human-to-human transmission might have occurred. We [the World Health Organization] continue to expect only sporadic human cases.”
The Chinese media haven’t been particularly smooth about quelling unease over the coming flumageddon, as a recent health expert who talked with the China Daily can attest:
“So there is no need to panic, although more human cases are expected in coming days,” [the deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention] said.
The H7N9 bird flu virus tends to be more active in winter and such a period of stronger viral activity might last into early spring, he noted.
The main transmission route for the virus remains from birds to humans [and] among the cases reported, up to 70 percent had had contact with birds, he said.
Any statement that being “don’t panic, but” is probably in need of some rephrasing. Furthermore, “up to 70%” infection via birds still leaves at least a 30% chance of human transmission, which seems fairly high for something that has been described as isolated and sporadic. The WHO is, presumably, working overtime on this one, so we will hopefully have more information soon.
[Image via Flickr]