Scientists warn against complacency on deadly H7N9 bird flu

Tuesday, June 25, 2013
By Paul Martin

By Kate Kelland
Sun Jun 23, 2013

A new and deadly strain of bird flu that emerged in China in February but seems to have petered out in recent months could reappear later this year when the warm season comes to an end – and could spread internationally, scientists said on Monday.

A study by researchers in China and Hong Kong found only one human case of the H7N9 bird flu strain has been identified since early May.

In the preceding months, the virus, which was unknown in humans until February, has infected more than 130 people in China and Taiwan, killing 37 of them, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“The warm season has now begun in China, and only one new laboratory-confirmed case of H7N9 in human beings has been identified since May 8, 2013,” the researchers wrote in a study published in The Lancet medical journal.

But they added: “If H7N9 follows a similar pattern to H5N1, the epidemic could reappear in the autumn.”

H5N1 is another deadly strain of bird flu which emerged in 2003 and has since spread around the world. Latest WHO data on H5N1 show it has killed 375 of the 630 people confirmed as infected in the past 10 years. Many H5N1 cases have been in Egypt, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The researchers, from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Beijing and the University of Hong Kong, said the potential lull in H7N9 could offer health officials the chance to properly discuss and plan ahead for the possibility of the flu’s return and wider spread.

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