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Scientists Find First Signs Of Antiviral Resistance In New H7N9 Virus

“Scientists have found the first cases of the new bird flu virus proving resistant to treatment with Tamiflu or similar drugs,” The Guardian reports. “The analysis of the course of the H7N9 bird flu virus and use of antivirals in 14 patients, reported in The Lancet (.pdf) medical journal, found that three severely ill people did not respond to the group of medicines that are the standard weapon against threatened flu pandemics,” the newspaper writes, adding, “The authors, from Shanghai and Hong Kong, said that in these cases genetic testing showed a mutation” (Meikle, 5/28). “The researchers said: ‘The apparent ease with which antiviral resistance emerges in H7N9 viruses is concerning, it needs to be closely monitored and considered in future pandemic response plans,'” BBC News notes (Gallagher, 5/28). “The H7N9 virus is known to have infected 131 people in China since February, but no new cases have been detected since early May, according to the [WHO],” Reuters writes (Hirschler, 5/28).

But “[e]xperts fear the possibility of the virus mutating into a form easily transmissible between humans, with the potential to trigger a pandemic,” Agence France-Presse notes, adding, “[T]he world is not ready to deal with a major pandemic, the deputy head of the [WHO] told a conference last week, despite efforts since an outbreak of another form of avian influenza, H1N1, in 2009-10” (5/27). The WHO “has previously said it has no evidence of ‘sustained human to human transmission’ of the virus, which has killed 36 people in China,” Reuters reports in a separate article. However, “[a] study … presented at a briefing in Hong Kong on Friday found  … [t]he new H7N9 bird flu virus can be transmitted between mammals not only via direct contact but also in airborne droplets, and may be capable of spreading from person to person,” the news service notes (Mo, 5/24). “The latest research into the virus, which before this year had never been detected in humans, was published Thursday (subscription required for full text) in the online edition of the journal Science,” according to the Los Angeles Times (Brown, 5/23).