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U.S., Chinese Researchers Developing Vaccine For H7N9 Avian Flu Virus; Some Question Speed Of Case Reporting

“Less than two weeks after Chinese officials released the genetic sequence of a new type of bird flu [H7N9], U.S. vaccine experts are well on the way to making a vaccine to protect people against it,” NBC News’s “Vitals” blog reports (Fox, 4/10). China’s Ministry of Science and Technology and National Health and Family Planning Commission also have begun research to make a vaccine, which they say will be ready within seven months, according to an official statement, Xinhua reports (4/10). “Scientists said Wednesday that the virus seems to have been the result of genetic reassortment of wild birds from east Asia and chickens from east China, Xinhua … reported,” the “Vitals” blog writes (4/10). Maria Zambon, director of the U.K.’s national influenza center, said in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, “The distribution of the cases, which is over several hundred kilometers, without obvious epidemiological links, suggests that there are diverse sources.”

“China has increased its capacity to respond to emerging infectious pathogens since the severe acute respiratory syndrome [SARS] outbreak that caused almost $40 billion in economic losses a decade ago,” Bloomberg reports (Cortez/Gerlin, 4/10). However, the New York Times writes, “[O]ne of the biggest [mysteries surrounding the emergence of a new and deadly strain of avian influenza around Shanghai] is why China’s hundreds of medical and veterinary labs did not spot the problem sooner — or if they did, why it was not disclosed.” The article examines possible reasons why it took the government until March 31 to announce the first case, which was detected on February 19 (Bradsher, 4/10). NBC’s “Vitals” blog notes that the virus “doesn’t seem to be making birds sick — which means authorities don’t have tell-tale die-offs of poultry to warn them when it’s circulating” (4/10). Xinhua notes, “So far, the country has reported a total of 33 H7N9 cases, including nine that ended in fatalities” (4/10).