Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Bird Flu Is Back

From New Scientist:

Bird flu strain hitting China may be getting more infectious

Bird flu
Pandemic possibility
AVIAN flu is on the rampage in China again. There have been 424 cases in humans already since last October, more than a third of all those identified since the H7N9 virus emerged in 2013. And it is spreading.

This week it was announced that the virus has acquired mutations that could make it a much bigger problem.

H7N9 mainly infects birds and doesn’t readily pass from human to human, but should it acquire this ability a deadly pandemic could ensue (for more on how to tackle the next pandemic, see “
Plague! How to prepare for the next pandemic“).
The virus spreads in poultry without making birds visibly sick, so it is often only found when people fall ill. But this week both mainland China and Taiwan reported human cases in which a surface protein on the virus has a mutation that makes it lethal to chickens. If that spreads, H7N9 will be 
“highly pathogenic” like H5N1.
While the mutation doesn’t make people any more sick, it allows the virus to replicate much faster in chickens. With more in circulation, people, and perhaps pigs and other mammals, are more likely to catch it. Each case is a chance for H7N9 
to adapt to mammals and perhaps become better at spreading from person to person.
Our only real defence is a vaccine. Last week, China launched clinical trials of four strains by a state-owned vaccine firm. But even if the vaccine works, the world can’t yet make enough to cope with a pandemic.

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