Chinese health officials are now reporting that the deadly H7N9 bird flu is now transmissible from person to person, possibly making it a serious threat to humans. This is contrary to previously published reports.
This virus has killed a third of the patients who have been hospitalized with it. Since it was identified in February, there have been 132 cases, which include 39 deaths confirmed in China. Most of these patients were elderly, with a high risk of complications due to their age. Additionally, many victims had been in contact with poultry.
Once it has infected a person, the virus attaches itself to the cells in the windpipe and lungs. It even infects cells that are lodged deep within the respiratory system. H7N9 is able to bind to both bird and human cells. This ability to bind to both species cells makes it better able to jump from birds to humans. Fortunately, the aspects of the virus that makes it so severe, such as its location in the lower respiratory system, makes it more difficult to transmit from person to person.
However, researchers of one study believe that there are several important features to this avian virus that could possibly pose a high risk to humans. Once patients are infected they exhibit high levels of inflammatory and immune cells, which contribute to the severity of symptoms. It is also developing a resistance to antiviral drugs, making treatment challenging. Additionally, the virus is unpredictable in its evolution and adaption and the human population lacks a pre-existing immunity, leaving the human population with a high risk of infection.
At doctor at NYU Langone Medical Center says that this virus has the potential to do humans harm, but it is not a high risk in terms of probabilities. Scientists and epidemiologists should keep careful track of it but there is not any evidence of it spreading rapidly from person to person. The doctor supports the creation of a vaccine as a precaution but mass production is not necessarily needed. Scientists should be concerned and watch the virus, but not the general public.
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