The deadly H7N9 has now advanced beyond mainland China.
We all remember the bird flu scare that we got a few years ago, it killed some people, put others through hell, and caused half of China to wear masks. Unfortunately, a new strain has broken out a few weeks ago in China, and according to Chinese doctors, it is more violent and more lethal than the previous strain.
Fowl markets can be hotbeds of the virus and where it learns to attack humans
The Avian H7N9 virus keeps spreading in China and now it has crossed beyond the mainland, with at least one confirmed case in Taiwan as of April 24th. Scientists are still trying to understand how it spreads. World health organization officilas have said: "This is an unusally dangerous virus for humans."
What we know:
What is the H7N9 virus?
It's a type of bird flu (originating in birds and adapted to infect humans). This outbreak is the first time this virus has ever attacked people.
How many have gotten sick?
Since the disease broke in China, about 2 weeks ago, 108 people have gotten ill, out of those 108 - 22 have died. Most of the infected people have severe symptoms.
Is this a pandemic?
There's no evidence that this virus can be easily transferred between humans, a trait that would make it a pandemic. That said, World Health Organization officials said they wouldn't be surprised if it also transfered between people.
An image of the H7N9 virus
How do you get infected?
Most of the cases seem to be a mystery. Most of the people weren't around birds at the time of infection, nor had they eaten any bird-related product like eggs. Some families have seen several members get sick at the same time, but it isn't clear if they gave it to each other or touched the same things.
This virus seems to pass from birds to people better than its predecessor, the H5N1 virus.
How dangerous is it?
The World Health Organization claims this is one of the most lethal flus scientists have ever seen. By that they mean not the number of people catching it, but the % of people who die after getting sick, which right now stands at about 60%. That's a huge percentage.
In the US, seasonal flu kills about 0.1% or less of infected. That's one in 1000. The previous bird flu - 6 out of 10. That's a huge difference, and this virus is supposedly more deadly than that.
Should we be worried?
NO. Not yet, anyway. If you don't live in mainland China, and even then, don't live near the hot zones, then you should be safe. So don't get scared just yet, but remain aware, remain cautious, and follow the news as they will discover more about how this virus works and how to avoid getting infected.
What is China doing to stop this?
The Chinese government has slowed the spread of the virus by shutting down poultry markets in those areas they deem hotspots of infection.
Compared to what they did with SARS some years back, the Chinese government IS being open about this, and have published a paper detailing the problems with this virus.
Is there anything we can do now about it?
First, if you have someone you know in China or Taiwan, ask them to check the 'hotspots' and avoid them. Similarly, if someone comes back from China or Taiwan, they should be alert to any signs of a cold developing and not 'wait-and-see' but go to the hospital immediately to check it out.
If you are or have been in contact with people from these areas, and you feel ill, go check out immediately - better safe than sorry.
Other than that - be sure to stay updated on this dangerous virus for news of it leaving China and popping somewhere near you, and most importantly - make sure your chicken is fully cooked. Well-cooked poultry are safe to eat as avian influenza virus are usually heat-sensitive. They can be made inactive by boiling for 30 minutes at the temperature of 65 degrees Celsius (149 F) or two minutes at a temperature of 100 degrees Celsius (212 F).