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An avian influenza virus that emerged in 2013 is suddenly spreading widely in China, causing a sharp spike in human infections and deaths. Last month alone it sickened 192 people, killing 79, according to an announcement this week by China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission in Beijing.
The surge in human cases is cause for alarm, says Guan Yi, an expert in emerging viral diseases at the University of Hong Kong in China. “We are facing the largest pandemic threat in the last 100 years,” he says.
As of 16 January, the cumulative toll from H7N9 was 918 laboratory-confirmed human infections and 359 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Despite its high mortality rate, H7N9 had gotten less attention of late than two other new strains—H5N8 and H5N6—that have spread swiftly, killing or forcing authorities to cull millions of poultry. But so far, H5N8 has apparently not infected people; H5N6 has caused 14 human infections and six deaths.
All human H7N9 cases have been traced to exposure to the virus in mainland China, primarily at live poultry markets. The strain likely resulted from a reshuffling of several avian influenza viruses circulating in domestic ducks and chickens, Guan’s group reported in 2013. Studies in ferrets and pigs have shown that H7N9 more easily infects mammals than H5N1, a strain that sparked pandemic fears a decade ago. There have been several clusters of H7N9 cases in which human-to-human transmission “cannot be ruled out,” but there is “no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission,” according to an analysis of recent developments that WHO posted online last week. WHO’s analyses of viral samples so far “do not show evidence of any changes in known genetic markers of virulence or mammalian adaptation,” WHO’s China Representative Office in Beijing wrote in an email to Science.
Still, there are worrisome riddles. One is that H7N9 causes severe disease in people but only mild or even no symptoms in poultry. The only previous example of that pattern, Guan says, is the H1N1 strain responsible for the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed 50 million to 100 million people.
A menace again
After two quiet years, human cases of the H7N9 bird flu virus in mainland China spiked sharply at the end of last year, provoking renewed fears of an influenza pandemic.
Because poultry infected with H7N9 show few symptoms, the virus has spread stealthily, coming to the attention of authorities only after human victims appeared. Determining where the virus is circulating requires testing chickens and collecting environmental samples from live poultry markets.
Human infections have followed a consistent pattern, dropping to zero during summer, picking up in the fall, and peaking in January. During the fifth wave of H7N9 that began last fall, authorities noticed an early and sudden uptick in cases, with 114 human infections from September to December 2016, compared with 16 cases during the same months in 2015 and 31 in 2014, according to a surveillance report. The report notes that the virus has spread geographically, with 23 counties in seven eastern Chinese provinces reporting their first human cases last fall.
“It is too late to contain the virus in poultry,” Guan says. He predicts that the virus will continue to spread in China’s farms, possibly evolving into a strain that would be pathogenic for poultry. Authorities have culled more than 175,000 birds this winter to stamp out local outbreaks of H7N9 and other avian flu strains. Further spread of H7N9 “will naturally increase human infection cases,” Guan says.
H7N9 may also spread beyond China’s borders, either through the poultry trade or through migratory birds. The virus has not been reported in poultry outside China. However, warns WHO’s Beijing office, “continued vigilance is needed.”
Courtesy of sciencemag.org
A total of 30 fatalities have been reported that are possibly connected with the flu, mostly among the elderly, and these cases were instances of conjoined diseases, and none of the patients had received vaccines, Ilic told the session of the Serbian parliament Healthcare Committee.
Ilic noted that since the beginning of the season, a total of 129,638 patients have been diagnosed with influenza and a considerable drop of the new flu cases was recorded in the last week compared to the previous weeks.
A total of 304 cases of flu have been registered and confirmed through laboratory testing, and the most frequent virus is A (H1) with around 49 percent of disease cases, followed by A (H3) with 36 percent of cases, Ilic said and added that as the infection is subsiding, the structure of the virus is changing.
We now have an increase in the number of patients infected with A (H3), while A (H1) virus was dominant at the beginning of the breakout, Ilic said.
Courtesy of inserbia.info
Sixteen students of a school in the Central Highlands region in Vietnam have been tested positive for influenza type A subtype H1N1, according to health authorities.
Representatives of the Ho Chi Minh City Pasteur Institute announced on Saturday that 16 fourth graders at Xuan Thanh Elementary-Middle School in Da Teh District, Lam Dong Province have been confirmed to have influenza A H1N1.
The representatives said the test results and the students’ symptoms are indicative of a flu outbreak.
After being treated for three days, the kids’ conditions are now stable. Over half of them have had their fevers brought down, and only two still suffer a high temperature, Dr. Dong Sy Quang, of Lam Dong Province’s Health Department, said on Saturday afternoon.
He added his department has instructed Da Teh District’s Health Center continue treatment of the 16 students in quarantine and adopt urgent measures to make sure the outbreak is eradicated.
Bui Van Hung, chair of the Da Teh District People’s Committee, said a team has been deployed to sterilize the school and the 16 students’ homes as well as all sites throughout the district to stall the spread of the flu.
All of the school’s students have been notified of their friends’ afflictions, and are required to put on masks and sterilize their hands in tanks erected in the school, starting Monday.
According to the Ho Chi Minh City Pasteur Institute, influenza A H1N1 viruses are transmitted via respiration and throat fluids.
On Wednesday, 16 out of 18 fourth graders in a class of Xuan Thanh Elementary-Middle School suddenly developed fevers, coughs, and sore throats.
The kids received treatment in quarantine at the district’s health center on the same afternoon as they were suspected of contracting influenza A virus subtype H5N1, a deadly avian flu strain.
Epidemic inspections launched by the provincial Health Department and Da Teh District’s Health Center indicated that the outbreak stemmed from one of the female students in the same class one week earlier.
The viruses were quickly passed on from the girl to her classmates.
Apart from the 16 students infected with influenza A H1N1, Da Teh District’s Health Center on Friday morning found two other students from the same school to also have mild fevers and coughs, Dr. Quang, from the Lam Dong Health Department, said.
These two students are treated and monitored at home as their conditions are not serious.
The influenza type A subtype H1N1 virus caused a worldwide pandemic in 2009. It is now a human seasonal flu virus that also circulates in pigs.
The virus spreads between people in the same way as seasonal flu viruses and has led to several deaths in Vietnam in recent years.
Courtesy of TUOI TRE NEWS
A “nasty” flu virus is now widespread in the United States, killing at least 26 children, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Friday.
The CDC said in a weekly update that high levels of flu activity were reported in 46 U.S. states for the week ending Jan. 3, up from 43 states during the previous week.
“It appears that we’re right in the middle of flu season this year,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a teleconference. “But it’s too soon to say whether we’ve peaked.”
According to the CDC, a U.S. flu season lasts about 13 weeks on average and the country is now about seven weeks in.
The predominant circulating strain this season is H3N2, which Frieden called “a nastier flu virus” than other flu viruses.
Hospitalization rates among people 65 years and older “are rising sharply,” going from 52 per 100,000 the previous week to 92 per 100,000, he said.
The last H3N2 season was in 2012-13 and the cumulative hospitalization rate for older people by the end of that season reached 183 per 100,000.
“We wouldn’t be surprised to see something similar happening this year,” the CDC chief said.
Five children died from the flu during the last full week, bringing the total flu deaths to 26 this season, he said, noting the actual number of deaths may be “even higher” based on past investigations.
Even worse, about two-thirds of H3N2 viruses analyzed this season are different from the H3N2 virus that’s included in this year’s flu vaccine, he said.
That means protection with vaccination against this season’s H3N2 viruses will probably be reduced.
Despite that possibility, Frieden continued to urge people to get vaccinated, especially children younger than two years and adults aged 65 years and older.
“Vaccinations may still offer some protection and there are other strains of flu out there as well,” he explained.
Courtesy of xinhuanet news