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First case of human-transmitted bird flu


Paulina Keber
Staff Writer

Wednesday, August 7, 2013, 4:07 PM -

When the avian flu (also called the ‘bird flu’) caused a worldwide pandemic in 2006, steps were given to ensure the safety of the public. Washing your hands, properly handling raw meat, and cooking poultry thoroughly were highly recommended. But the most important suggestion was to avoid contact with birds that could be effected, especially in countries where cases of infected birds have been reported. But with new information coming from China this week, avoiding the spread of the virus may become more difficult than before. 

This past week a 32-year-old woman from China died after catching the H7N9 virus from her father. This indicates that the spread of the virus may no longer be limited to bird-to-human contact. 

The woman caught the virus after taking care of her father who was also ill with the bird flu. Her father, aged 60, seemed to have caught the virus following a visit to a poultry market. The daughter on the other hand, had no exposure to live poultry and fell ill six days after visiting her father. Both were later placed in intensive care and eventually died from multiple organ failure. 

Tests conducted on these two patients revealed that the strains were an almost identical match. This supports the theory that the virus was passed from the father to daughter. This strain of the virus is also responsible for killing over 40 people in China since March of this year.

But this does not mean that the avian flu has developed into a strain that easily transfers from person to person. According to scientists, this was the first case in which a human had been able to transfer the virus to another. As well, all 43 people that came in contact with the pair tested negative for H7N9. This would suggest that the ability for the virus to spread is limited. Experts also think that it is very unlikely that H7N9 could adapt fully to humans. 

What this case does show though is that the virus has the potential to develop into a form that can be easily transmitted from one human to another. In fact, results from a study published in the U.S Science journal show that this particular strain can spread among mammals and the same could also be possible for humans under certain conditions. Scientists have also concluded that the H7N9 virus has the possibility for pandemic spread. And while the virus does not easily transfer between individuals, it is still a fear that the virus will one day progress into this. 

Before getting worried, experts say that in the past other bird viruses have developed such that they also had the limited ability to spread between humans. As such, scientists believe that they should only worry if a longer chain of transmission from human to human happens. This would then indicate that the virus had reached a stage where it was more easily transferable. 

Until then, be cautious and vigilant when handling poultry and stay away from birds that could possibly be infected.

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