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H7N9 Virus Continues To Spread; International Research Team Traveling To China To Assist

“Two more people in China have died from a new strain of avian influenza, bringing to 16 the number of deaths from the H7N9 virus, and the government has warned that the number of infections could rise,” Reuters reports. “The latest victims were from the commercial capital of Shanghai, where the majority of the 77 cases have been found, the official Xinhua news agency reported late on Tuesday,” the news agency adds (4/17). “The city, one of China’s most important international business hubs, leads the country with nine deaths since the spread of the disease accelerated in the past several days,” Forbes notes (Flannery, 4/16). “The World Health Organization said on Wednesday that a number of people who have tested positive for a new strain of bird flu in China have had no history of contact with poultry, adding to the mystery about the virus,” Reuters writes in a separate article, noting “a top Chinese scientist was quoted as saying that about 40 percent of those with the H7N9 virus had had no contact with fowl” (Nebehay et al., 4/17). In addition, “[d]octors say the discovery of a four-year-old carrier of the … virus who shows no symptoms of the potentially lethal virus is a worrying development that could make the spread of the infection more difficult to monitor,” according to CNN’s “On China” blog (Shadbolt, 4/17).

“The new virus has flu experts on high alert,” and the WHO “is watching the situation closely,” Scientific American writes, adding, “Given the mutations in the virus and the rapid accrual of cases, the agency is preparing for the worst” (Branswell, 4/16). “Until the source is identified, further cases of infection, which has so far been limited to six eastern provinces and municipalities, are expected in other areas of China, [WHO spokesperson Glenn Thomas] said, adding that WHO was on the alert for mutations that could bring human-to-human transmission of the virus,” the U.N. News Centre notes (4/16). “An international team of flu experts will go to China this week to help with investigations into the” virus, the WHO said Tuesday, according to Reuters in a third article. “Another WHO spokesman, Gregory Hartl, said it would be made up of eight people in all,” including experts in emerging infectious diseases, zoonosis, and epidemiology, Reuters notes (Nebehay et al., 4/16). Science Insider reports on how the virus is making its way around the world in “carefully labeled, small packages sent from country to country and from lab to lab,” so that researchers may attempt to “develop diagnostics and vaccines, gauge the virus’s potential to sicken animals and spread between them, and better understand its molecular makeup” (Kupferschmidt et al., 4/16).