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Published Report Describes 3 Cases Of H7N9; Researchers Developing Quick Test, Vaccine

A new report by a team of Chinese researchers describing the cases of three people who died of the H7N9 avian flu strain in China “was published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine along with a commentary from American health officials, who said the disease ‘raises many urgent questions and global public health concerns,'” the New York Times reports. “So far, the disease has killed 10 people in China and has sickened more than 20 others in the last two months, and new cases are reported every day,” the newspaper writes (Grady, 4/11). USA Today reports the CDC “activated its Emergency Operations Center at Level II, the second-highest level of alert.” The CDC on Thursday received a sample of live H7N9 virus from China, which CDC Director Thomas Frieden said should help researchers develop a quick test within a week, the newspaper reports (Weise, 4/11).

However, “[d]eveloping a vaccine to protect people from the new H7N9 flu virus … could prove to be especially difficult,” the CDC experts said in the NEJM commentary, the Wall Street Journal notes. “Vaccines against H7 avian flu viruses that have already been studied haven’t produced a strong immune response in humans, they wrote,” the newspaper states, adding, “And like any new vaccine, it would likely take many months to produce and distribute, they wrote, adding ‘extensive efforts’ to develop vaccines are under way” (McKay, 4/11). Reuters reports that “government-backed researchers had already begun testing a ‘seed’ strain of the virus made from the genetic code posted on the Internet,” but even that version would take months to produce (Steenhuysen, 4/11). According to Science, “researchers are guardedly optimistic: There is no persuasive evidence that the virus spreads between people, an ability it would need to set off the next flu pandemic” (Cohen et al., 4/12). PRI’s “The World” examined the Chinese government’s response to the outbreak and how social media is addressing the novel virus (Magistad, 4/11).