H7N9 Update: May 31, 2013
There is good news and less than encouraging information regarding the H7N9 avian flu virus.
On the positive side, Chinese health authorities reported just one new case of human infection and two fatalities from May 17-31. More than 130 human cases and 36 fatalities have now been confirmed. Because just eight new human cases have been reported since May 2, the focus of the outbreak investigation has shifted from the marketplace (live poultry markets are thought to be the main route of infections so far), to the laboratory. Unfortunately, researchers in the lab have uncovered some disturbing results.
A team of scientists from the University of Hong Kong hosted a press briefing May 24, to discuss a study in which the H7N9 virus demonstrated the potential to spread from human-to-human via direct contact and airborne exposure. The study was conducted with ferrets, the main animal used for research regarding humans and influenza.
Microbiologist and research team spokesman Yi Guan said the study indicated that H7N9 could potentially develop all the characteristics needed to trigger a pandemic.
Meanwhile, a recent report in the British Medical Journal Lancet reviewed the first cases of resistance among H7N9 victims treated with antiviral medications. According to Lancet, two of 14 people initially treated with neuraminidase inhibitors (the group of medicines that are standard weapons against threatened flu pandemics), did not respond to the medications and subsequently died. Chinese scientists expressed concern over these two fatalities because they are indications that H7N9 can mutate into a more virulent form.
Drugs in the neuraminidase inhibitor class include Oseltamivir (Tamiflu), and Zanamivir (Relenza). Twelve of the 14 Chinese initially treated with the neuraminidase inhibitors did fully recover from their H7N9 illness.
More information about the H7N9 virus will be available on this site. Please check back with us periodically for updates.