While precious little space has been dedicated in the US media to what remains an uncontained epidemic of the H7N9 bird flu in China, cases continue to spread even as the number of deaths mount, taking at least 22 reported lives at last check. Things just got from bad to worse, as the bird flu is now following in the footsteps of the 2003 SARS breakout, with the first reported case outside of China hitting newswires overnight.
The SCMP reports that "Taiwan on Wednesday reported the first case of the H7N9 bird flu outside of mainland China. The case involves a 53-year-old man, who had been working in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou. He showed flu symptoms three days after returning to Taiwan via Shanghai, the Centres for Disease Control said, adding that he had been hospitalised since April 16 and was in a critical condition." Considering the lack of transparency of the Chinese government one can only guess, literally, at what the true morbidity and mortality statistics of the flu epidemic are, which is perhaps the main reason this ongoing story for the past two months has so far evaded major coverage. However, as more and more cases are reported outside of China, the world will have no choice but to start paying attention, especially with the WHO announced that "This is one of the most lethal influenza viruses we have seen so far."
A new type of bird flu that has killed 22 people in China since March is one of the most deadly strains of influenza known, international health experts said on Wednesday.
"This is one of the most lethal influenza viruses we have seen so far," said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Assistant Director-General for Health Security. "We are at the beginning of our understanding of this virus."
The H7N9 strain appears to spread more easily to humans than SARS, another type of bird flu that started killing people in Asia a decade ago, experts said.
"This is an unusually dangerous virus for humans," added Fukuda, who was speaking in Beijing alongside leading flu experts from around the world.
The group of experts made an impressive display of international cooperation, but at the same time admitted just how little is known about the virus that has infected 108 people since March.
"We are at the very early stages of this investigation," said Dr. Nancy Cox, who heads Influenza Division at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. "There's a lot to be learned.”
He said a few family clusters have been found, which could be the result of exposure to the same source of virus, or limited person-to-person transmission.
But he said: "'Evidence so far is not sufficient to conclude there is person-to-person transmission. Moreover, no sustained person-to-person transmission has been found.”
The experts concluded that live poultry markets were the most likely source of infection.
The experts praised the swift action of Chinese authorities in closing live poultry markets, and said it was "encouraging" that there have been no new cases in Shanghai since its markets were shuttered.
And they called for continued international cooperation against a virus that doesn't recognize borders.
"The risks of an outbreak situation are shared in a globalized world, where we are all interconnected," said Fukuda.
Taiwan, already paranoid about China's microbial exports, would beg to differ.
The latest interactive H7N9 tracking map is presented below: