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January 30th, 2014
The avian flu virus, which up until last year infected poultry exclusively, has now mutated and crossed over to humans.
What’s even scarier is the fact that the Chinese have been unable to contain the novel H7N9 strain of the virus and health officials the world over are getting ready for the worst. It’s spreading and we now have confirmation that the virus has begun appearing in other countries.
On Thursday, billions of Chinese will be on the move to celebrate the Lunar New Year, creating ripe conditions for the spread of the influenza virus from those already infected. And many of those celebrations will include chickens, the primary carriers of H7N9. In addition, with the Winter Olympics, one of the world’s largest sporting events, just two weeks away, the virus could find the ideal conditions for breaking out.
And that means the next plane could bring a pandemic to the U.S. or anywhere else around the world. “The bottom line is the health security of the U.S. is only as strong as the health security of every country around the world,” says Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
“We are all connected by the food we eat, the water the drink and the air we breathe.”
But that’s not the worst of it. Last year the World Health Organization warned that H7N9 is one of the most lethal influenza strains ever identified.
Of the nearly 250 officially confirmed reports of human infection since last year, a quarter of those infected have died.
Those are the official numbers, but it is likely that the number of active infections could be a hundred-fold (or more) higher.
Moreover, like any flu virus, H7N9 continues to mutate and scientists recently suggested that all it would take for this particular strain to become a deadly global pandemic is an increase in its transmission rate.
It was initially thought that the virus only spread through human contact with poultry, but that theory was quickly turned on its head when a team of researchers at the University of Hong Kong confirmed that the virus had gone airborne.
If H7N9 mutates to transmission rates of other flu viruses, which is certainly a possibility, then we could well be looking at a mass global pandemic – and according to WHO the H7N9 is mutating eight (8) times faster than a typical flu virus.
To put this in perspective, the 1918 Spanish Flu infected as many as half a billion people (about a quarter of the world’s population). The mortality rate was somewhere in the area of 5% to 10%, with a final death toll of around 50 million people.
At a 25% mortality rate the H7N9 avlian flu, combined with modern transportation systems and metropolitan areas housing tens of millions of people, there is serious potential for a globally significant catastrophe.
Should this virus increase its transmission rate we could be looking at a scenario where a billion or more people contract the virus around the world.
The math is straight forward. One in four will perish.
While we’ve had pandemic scares in the recent past, this one really has researchers and global health officials spooked:
The fast mutation makes the virus’ evolutionary development very hard to predict. “We don’t know whether it will evolve into something harmless or dangerous,” He said. “Our samples are too limited. But the authorities should definitely be alarmed and get prepared for the worst-case scenario.”
As of yet, there is no available vaccine, and one novel mechanism of action for H7N9 is that as soon as it infects its host it develops rapid antiviral resistance, so traditional medicines like Tamiflu don’t work.
One infected student at a local school, or a restaurant worker, or a passenger on an airplane could take this to the next level.
And once it takes hold, there will be no stopping it.
Most don’t believe it is possible with our advanced sciences and research facilities.
History proves otherwise.
- Plague of Justinian (541 – 542) – At it’s peak over 5,000 people per day died in the city of Constantinople
- Black Death (1348 – 1350) – Over 75 Million Dead. Nearly 60% of Europe.
- Smallpox (16th Century) – Wiped out entire civilizations like the Aztecs.
- The Third Pandemic (1855 – circa 1990) – A Bubonic Plague that killed over 10 million in China and India
- The Spanish Flu (1918 – 1919) – Over 50 million dead
The only steps one can take is to be ready in advance with a Pandemic Preparedness Plan, as recommended by Tess Pennington:
When an outbreak occurs, many will remain in a state of denial about any approaching epidemics. Simply put, most people believe themselves to be invincible to negative situations and do not like the idea change of any kind.
They will remain in this state until they realize they are unable to deny it to themselves any longer. Being prepared before the masses come out of their daze will ensure that you are better prepared before the hoards run to the store to stock up.
In addition to remaining isolated from the general population, you must have (in advance) access to food, water, medicine, and self defense armaments.
If such a virus were to spread, infecting millions and killing off 25% of those who contract it, you can be assured of widespread panic as the unprepared search and fight for resources.
Local authorities set to close live poultry markets in major cities [EPA]
|Chinese officials are taking measures to prevent the spread of H7N9, a deadly strain of bird flu that has already killed 22 people this year.Three members of the same Chinese family contracted H7N9 in Hangzhou, the capital of the eastern province of Zhejiang, the worst-affected by the current spike in cases.
Local authorities are set to close live poultry markets in major cities, according to reports in official media.
Live poultry trading will be halted in cities in coastal Zhejiang province from February 15, and neighbouring Shanghai will stop trading for three months beginning on Friday.
So far this year, China has confirmed 110 human H7N9 cases, including 22 deaths, according to an AFP news agency’s tally of reports by local authorities.
By comparison there were 144 infections and 46 deaths in all of 2013, according to official figures.
Zhejiang alone has seen 53 cases this year, almost half the national total, and 12 deaths.
On Tuesday, Hong Kong’s only wholesale poultry market began culling 20,000 chickens and suspended imports of fresh poultry from mainland China for three weeks after the discovery of the H7N9 bird flu virus in a batch of live chickens from the southern province of Guangdong.
The government order took effect on Tuesday, two days before the start of the Chinese New Year, when poultry sellers generally anticipate a surge in sales.
China’s human H7N9 outbreak began in February 2013 and sparked fears the virus could mutate to become easily transmissible between people, potentially triggering a pandemic.
Both Chinese authorities and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have said there has been no evidence so far of sustained human-to-human transmission.
But limited spread, such as between relatives in close contact, is possible, and there have been previous such family clusters.
The WHO said on Wednesday that the spike in cases this year was not surprising due to seasonal factors, rather than a virus mutation.
“Today there is no evidence that the characteristics of the virus have changed in a way that would explain an increase in cases and change in case fatality,” WHO Representative in China Bernhard Schwartländer told the AFP news agency.
A vendor picks chickens at a wholesale poultry market in Shanghai, on Jan. 21, 2014. Chinese authorities confirmed on Jan. 27 that there have been cases of H7N9 spreading between humans. (AP photo)
The Chinese authorities on Jan. 27 acknowledged for the first time that they have discovered cases of human-to-human infection with the H7N9 bird flu, while remaining vague on the details in an attempt to prevent public panic.
In a short statement on Jan. 27, the authorities said that human-to-human transmission was recorded in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province. They do not specify the number of cases, nor the city in which they took place.
The H7N9 Joint Prevention and Control Office said the infection or infections took place under “particular conditions” and are “non-sustained transmissions,” meaning that it is not expected to spread from those incidents.
The case or cases in Zhejiang would be the first time that human-to-human transmission has been officially acknowledged by the authorities since H7N9, a new avian influenza, was first recorded in China in March 2013.
Experts at the China Center of Disease Control, however, said it was just a “special case,” and human-to-human transmission of H7N9 is not yet very widespread.
“The public has no need to panic too much,” said Xinhua, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party.
Zhejiang has a bad record with H7N9 infections: it has recorded 49 diagnosed cases and 12 deaths this month, the latest official report says.
A newly released “Treatment Scheme of Human Infection with H7N9 Bird Flu” by China’s Health and Family Planning Commission also now lists “limit and non-sustained human-to-human infection” as one of the ways in which the H7N9 virus may be transmitted.
More common transmission mechanisms include “infection through the respiratory tract, through close contact with secretions or excretions of infected birds, and through contact with the infected environment.”
Despite the authorities attempts at damage control in emphasizing the limited nature of human-to-human transmission, the news still came as highly unwelcome to the public. Many individuals posting on the Internet said they would avoid eating poultry, in order to protect themselves from contracting the virus. (Though it does not spread from the consumption of chicken meat.)
A large number of Chinese netizens have reported anecdotally that more people appear to be getting sick in comparison to years past.
“I have to let people know the truth. Very many people here in Harbin are sick, several times more compared to the same period in previous years,”remarked an anonymous netizen who said he or she was from northern China’s Heilongjiang Province. “There are both adults and children who have fevers above 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). Many of them have developed pneumonia.”
Internet users post such comments anonymously because information about the spread of disease is highly controlled by the communist authorities, and Chinese citizens who disclose such information without authorization can be severely punished.
“They are not confirmed to have H7N9, but the truth is that there’s such a large scale of flu, cold, and pneumonia going on, and it has very strong infectiousness. Who can give us an explanation?” the post continued. “Even nurses and doctors are sick and having fevers. What should we people do?”
There is currently no established, effective medical treatment or vaccine against H7N9. Chinese health and disease control experts suggest people should wash their hands more often, exercise more, wear masks when coming in contact with poultry, and avoiding live birds.
144 people were diagnosed with H7N9 in China last year, but just this month there have been 103 H7N9 bird flu patients, according to Chinese official reports, which may be incomplete. At least 20 have died from infection this year. New reports are issued daily with more cases.
“Mutated” Bird Flu Kills 19, Infects 96 In 2014 Already; China Says Epidemic Risk Unchanged | Zero Hedge
The H7N9 mutation of the bird flu virus is “more prone to human infection” than the H5N1 virus, with the fatality rate reaching 20-30%. China’s National Influenza Center (CNIC) has reported athat H7N9 has killed 19 in China this year already and the total number of infections has reached 96. Although , as always, details are few and far between, CNIC’s Shu Yuelong states that “the risk assessment of H7N9 epidemic outbreak is unchanged,” despite the admission that the virus is more difficult to prevent as there is no obvious symptom for H7N9 infected poultry. South Korea has expanded a poultry cull on fears of contagion.
H7N9 bird flu has killed 19 in China this year already, and the total number of human infections has reached 96, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Shu Yuelong, director of the Chinese National Influenza Center (CNIC), said on Monday that a large-scale H7N9 epidemic is unlikely during the Spring Festival holiday, as no H7N9 virus mutation that could affect public health has been identified so far.
“There is no evidence of constant inter-human transmission, and the risk assessment of H7N9 epidemic outbreak is unchanged,” said Shu.
Shu reiterated that H7N9 is more prone to human infection than H5N1, with H7N9 case fatality rate reaching 20 to 30 percent.
The virus is more difficult to be prevented as there is no obvious symptom for H7N9 infected poultry, and at present the CNIC is not able to precisely predict the direction of the mutation of the H7N9 virus.
“We will continue to strengthen monitoring and carry out research,” said Shu.
On Sunday, the National Health and Family Planning Commission issued a paper on H7N9 diagnosis and treatment, noting that early report, diagnosis and treatment are the best ways to prevent and control the virus.
South Korea is expanding a poultry cull in a bid to contain the spread of bird flu that has been found on an increasing number of farms around the country and in migratory birds.
The country’s agriculture ministry said the H5N8 strain of bird flu had been detected on six poultry farms and that there had been 13 cases in migratory birds since the first outbreak earlier this month.
No human infection has been reported, while the ministry is looking into four additional reports from poultry farms and more than 50 other suspected cases in migratory birds, it said in a statement on Monday.
South Korea will slaughter over 1.4 million farm birds, including 644,000 that have already been killed, according to the ministry. That would be under 1 percent of the country’s total 160 million poultry population.
The first case of H5N8 bird flu was found on January 17 at a duck farm in the southwestern province of North Jeolla, about 300 km (186 miles) from Seoul.
Live poultry traders in Hangzhou saw business halted Friday at the height of the Lunar New Year sales period due to the resurgent bird flu epidemic.
Hangzhou, capital city of east China’s Zhejiang province, announced Thursday that live poultry trading in its main urban areas would be halted on Friday to help contain H7N9 bird flu infections.
“So many live chickens in cages. What will I do with them?” said Li Xuemin, a live poultry vendor in the Songmuchang Open Fair in Hangzhou.
Li smoked with a glum look on his face while sitting next to his live chickens, about 40 in total, which were spreading their wings in their cages.
Li, who has been in the business for around two decades, complained about “entering the wrong business for half a lifetime,” as he had already experienced several rounds of market shutdowns due to bird flu infections.
As of Friday, Zhejiang has reported 37 cases of human H7N9 infection, the most among all regions nationwide. It was also the site of the country’s first confirmed human-to-human transmission last November.
In a circular, city authorities ordered live poultry markets in six districts to be disinfected and launched widespread monitoring over domestic fowl and birds in poultry farms, migratory bird habitats, and parks. The city’s live poultry markets and stalls were closed on Friday.
Early Friday morning, Li and his peers in the market began disinfection of their stalls and thought of ways to get rid of their live chickens and ducks.
“We have to send some to friends and relatives. As for the rest, we might slaughter them then put them in the freezer,” said Li. He added that he had decided to return to his hometown for Spring Festival early, but regretted missing out on the money-making opportunity.
The period leading up to the Spring Festival, the Chinese Lunar New Year, is traditionally the annual peak season for live poultry sales. The holiday falls on Jan. 31 this year and is an occasion when families get together in China.
Hangzhou’s two largest live poultry markets, Gouzhuang and Dajiang, closed on Wednesday.
Before its closure, live poultry trade in the Gouzhuang market totaled over 100,000 birds per day, with more than 70,000 chickens and 30,000 ducks, pigeons and geese sold daily and hundreds of fully loaded trucks pulling in and out of the market.
Now the market is quiet, with only sterilized empty cages and signs that say, “Live poultry processing forbidden, offenders fined with suspension of business.”
Jiaxing Lihua Livestock, a leading poultry enterprise in Zhejiang, suffered a massive direct loss of over 22 million yuan (US$3.63 million) in 2013.
“We prepared about three million chickens for the Lunar New Year market. When the market ban went into effect, there were still over 700,000 live chickens ready to go to market,” said Wang Zewen, chief manager with the enterprise.
“Even before the market ban, we suffered losses of about 6 yuan (US$0.99) for each chicken sold. While the market is closed, we are doomed to face even greater losses,” he said.
It is estimated that the ban will affect sales of about 10 million live poultry in the province, according to statistics released by the Zhejiang provincial poultry industry association.
On Thursday, five new human H7N9 cases were reported in Zhejiang, which has seen new H7N9 cases for the past 15 consecutive days.
Over this period, the live poultry industry has experienced a 70% drop in sales with prices falling over 50%, according to a survey on poultry businesses conducted by the association.
The neighboring city of Shanghai will also halt live poultry trading from the Spring Festival, to April 30 each year starting in 2014.
The city reported two more deaths from the H7N9 bird flu, raising the toll from the deadly virus to four so far this year, the Shanghai mayor said Thursday, without giving further details.
South Korea banned the movement of people who work with poultry and products from two provinces after confirming an outbreak of the highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N8 at farms in the country’s south.
Authorities have restricted movement in North Jeolla province, South Jeolla province and Gwangju Metropolitan City, about 240 kilometers (150 miles) from Seoul, for 48 hours until midnight Jan. 20, Lee Dong Phil, minister of the agriculture, food and rural affairs, told reporters today.
The ministry confirmed the first outbreak in Gochang, North Jeolla province on Jan. 17, and at a duck farm in nearby Buan county today, according to separate statements on the ministry’s website. South Korea has culled 90,000 birds at six farms within a 500-meter radius, the ministry said today.
“It was inevitable to announce a stand-still in order to prevent further damage,” Lee said. “We ask all to comply thoroughly with the stand-still instructions.”
South Korea is the world’s third-biggest buyer of corn, used in food, livestock feed and biofuel. The country destroyed 6.5 million chickens and ducks in the previous outbreak spanning December 2010 through May 2011, according to government data.
Shares of Harim Holdings Co. (024660), which manufactures packaged chicken through its subsidiaries, fell 6.4 percent, the most since June, to close at 4,500 won on Jan. 17 in Seoul. The benchmark Kospi stock index declined 0.7 percent.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stanley James at email@example.com
Addressing H5N1 concerns9:34
Alberta health officials have confirmed an isolated, fatal case of H5N1 or avian influenza, federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose said Wednesday.
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But officials repeatedly emphasized that there is no risk of transmission between humans.
The infected person, an Alberta resident who recently travelled to Beijing, China, died Jan. 3.
The case was confirmed in a lab test last night. It’s the first such case in North America.
The person first showed symptoms of the flu on a Dec. 27 flight from Beijing to Vancouver aboard Air Canada flight 030. The passenger continued on to Edmonton on Air Canada flight 244, after spending a few hours in the Vancouver airport, and was admitted to hospital Jan. 1. The symptoms of fever, malaise and headache worsened and the patient died two days later. The Public Health Agency of Canada was notified Jan. 5.
There were no respiratory symptoms, said Dr. James Talbot, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.
The diagnosis at the time of death was an inflammation of the brain and the linings that cover the brain. “That is one of the ways that H5N1 patients die,” Talbot said.
It is not known how the patient contracted the disease. The patient did not leave Beijing, did not travel to farms and did not visit any markets.
“Virtually every case has a pretty strong link to a close contact with birds,” Talbot said, though he noted there are other settings in which a person might catch H5N1, such as a restaurant that kept live birds for slaughter.
Rare in humans
Dr. Gregory Taylor, deputy chief public health officer, said the avian form of influenza has been found in birds, mainly poultry, in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
There have been fewer than than 650 human cases of bird flu in 15 countries over the last decade, primarily among people who have spent time around infected birds, he said.
“The illness [H5N1] causes in humans is severe and kills about 60 per cent of those who are infected,” Taylor said.
“No other illnesses of this type have been identified in Canada since the traveller returned from China. This is an isolated case.”
The officials added that the patient was otherwise healthy and it’s not yet clear how the person contracted H5N1.
Speaking to Evan Solomon, host of CBC News Network’s Power & Politics, Taylor said the patient was relatively young.
“This was a relatively young — well, a young person compared to me, with no underlying health conditions,” he said. Taylor is 58.
Risk of getting H5N1 low
Officials emphasized that this is not a disease transmitted between humans.
There were two people travelling with the infected person, whom officials are following for 10 days to ensure they don’t have any symptoms. They are also going to notify the other passengers from the flights between Beijing and Edmonton, and are following a group of the patient’s “close contacts.”
Talbot said family members of the victim are being monitored and treated with medication, but noted that there’s no sign they are sick.
Officials created confusion by referring to the patient as “him” and “her” in order to avoid identifying anyone. Officials said that they would not identify the sex, age or occupation of the patient. They also refused to say whether the infected passenger was an Edmonton resident or whether the patient went to hospital in Edmonton, although the final leg of the flight ended there.
Talbot said reports that the patient was from Edmonton are erroneous.
Ambrose, who phoned into a news conference in Ottawa, said Canadian officials are working with Chinese authorities on the case, as well as the World Health Organization.
“The risk of getting H5N1 is very low. This is not the regular seasonal flu. This is an isolated case,” she said.
An Air Canada spokeswoman said in a statement the airline is co-operating with officials, but referred any questions on the matter to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Source: World Health Organization
Figures for all countries except Canada are current as of Dec. 10, 2013. Canada’s one case was reported on Jan. 8, 2014.