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WHO Considers Sending Experts To China As Death Toll From H7N9 Virus Hits 7

The WHO “is talking with the Chinese government about sending international experts to China to help investigate a new bird flu strain that has sickened at least 24 people, killing seven of them,” the Associated Press reports. “A 64-year-old retired man in Shanghai became the latest victim of the H7N9 bird flu virus that had previously not been known to infect humans, the city government said Monday,” according to the news service (Wong, 4/8). “China is confident it can control [the] outbreak …, a senior Chinese health official said on Sunday,” Reuters writes, noting the country “has said it is mobilizing resources nationwide to combat the new strain, monitoring hundreds of close contacts of confirmed cases and culling tens of thousands of birds where traces of the virus were found” (Martina/Kelland, 4/7). “China will release information on the latest infections in a timely manner, and boost hospitals’ ability to handle cases, Liang Wannian, head of the H7N9 working group at the nation’s health commission, said at a briefing in Beijing” on Sunday, Bloomberg adds (4/7). “On Thursday, officials began the slaughter of at least 20,000 birds in Shanghai after the virus was detected in pigeons sold in Huhuai market,” BBC News notes (4/6).

“China announced just over a week ago that H7N9 avian influenza had been found in humans for the first time,” Agence France-Presse notes, adding, “Like the more common H5N1 variant which typically spreads from birds to humans, experts fear the possibility that such viruses can mutate into a form easily transmissible between humans, with the potential to trigger a pandemic” (Connor, 4/8). The new strain “has some of the genetic hallmarks of an easily transmissible virus, according to [Ron Fouchier, a professor of molecular virology at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands,] the scientist who showed how H5N1 avian flu could become airborne,” Bloomberg reports in a separate article (Bennett, 4/6). However, “[n]o epidemic link indicating a human-to-human transmission has been detected so far among the H7N9 infections in China, an official of the country’s health authority, said,” Xinhua writes (4/8). “Chinese authorities have monitored more than 100 associates of the H7N9 victims, and none have been shown to have fallen ill,” according to CDC Director Thomas Frieden, the Los Angeles Times’ “Science Now” blog notes (Brown, 4/5). NPR’s “Weekend Edition Sunday” interviews Frieden about the new strain (Martin, 4/7).