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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.
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.
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More than a dozen patients are in intensive care, some on ventilators, because of the H1N1 flu virus, according to the chief medical officer for a B.C. Lower Mainland health authority.
Dr. Paul Van Buynder, with Fraser Health, said Friday that 15 patients, many of them otherwise healthy, young people, were recently admitted to hospitals in the region.
“It is a lot for us at this particular time, especially because there is not a lot of circulating disease in the community at this point, and so we’re worried that this has happened to so many people so quickly,” he said.
He says the ages of the patients turning up with H1N1 flu span the spectrum, and include those in their 30s. He also said at least one of the patients is pregnant, and also that one person may have died from this flu strain.
“I have one person who hasn’t been confirmed, but I’m pretty sure did pass away from this,” Van Buynder told CBC News.
Van Buynder said medical officials are seeing small pockets of H1N1 breaking out across the region, in a pattern mirroring the flu’s spread in Alberta, Ontario and Texas.
Alberta’s Health Minister Fred Horne says there have been 965 lab-confirmed cases, another 251 people have been hospitalized due to influenza and five people have died so far this flu season.
The H1N1 flu outbreak of 2009, which the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, prompted mass immunizations across Canada.
Van Buynder said anyone visiting a hospital or health facility in B.C. will either need to wear a mask, or be vaccinated against the flu — and he said that previous vaccinations against H1N1 may not help anymore due to mutations in the virus.
“Certainly we don’t think everybody should be reassured by previously being vaccinated, and we’d like them to make sure that they go out and get it again,” he said.
Fraser Health serves more than 1.6 million people from Burnaby to Hope, to Boston Bar.