Local hospital working on preventing new bird flu

A new bird flu is nowhere near Midtown, and health experts are working hard to keep it that way.

Taiwan announced action last week to prevent the spread of the new strain that appeared there  – the first case outside of China.

Then Malaysia banned all imported chicken from China.

Last week locally, Dr. Lee Norman of the University of Kansas Hospital put out a press release on the new virus.

“Out of 108 cases to date, there are 22 deaths – so if you just rounded it and said a 20 percent fatality rate, that’s very high for an influenza virus,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal on Friday reported 23 deaths. A Taiwan man is in stable condition. He apparently got the disease this month on a trip to China.

Taiwan announced it is banning the slaughter of poultry in its traditional markets. China shut down poultry markets in affected regions and experts say that slowed the rate of infection, the journal reports.

Dr. Norman said, “It isn’t entirely known how this is transmitted and it is thought that it probably has a poultry connection, but it is not thought to be transmitted by eating poultry.”

There are four cases in a family cluster where it’s thought humans might have gotten it from humans, but “there is no evidence of human-to-human transfer in a sustained method right now,” Norman said.

The Wall Street Journal reports that health experts say there are no confirmed cases of humans getting it from humans.

“That is terrifically significant because influenza doesn’t become an epidemic or globally, i.e., pandemic until there is human-to-human transfer,” Dr. Norman said.

The vaccines used for flu over the last few years do not prevent the new strain, he said, and like other flu, some people with this new strain just have mild to moderate illness.

World health experts are working with those in China to better understand H7N9, Norman said.

“They are doing lots of bird surveillance…up to 80,000 to 90,000 birds, mostly poultry, have been sampled,” he said. “A very small percentage have had the virus and interestingly some of the birds testing positive for the virus are not ill, but are harboring the virus.”

Where will it go next, if anywhere?

If it spreads like past flu strains, it will be Southeast Asia, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia, Norman said, “but in this day and age of global transportation anything is possible.”

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