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article imageHong Kong virologists: Bird flu cases may be double that reported

By Michael Krebs     Apr 22, 2013 in Science
As the death toll from the H7N9 bird flu strain in China reached 21 and infections continue to increase, Hong Kong authorities now believe the virus may have already infected double the known figure.
The H7N9 bird flu virus has continued to progress among human populations in China, and virologists operating in Hong Kong are assessing the infection rate to be double that of the 104 reported on Monday by the Chinese government, according to Bloomberg. Researchers at the University of Hong Kong attribute the discrepancy to mild symptoms that many of the infected may be experiencing and therefore not reporting to health-care authorities.
There are known to be 21 deaths attributed to the volatile influenza strain, however scientists have not been able to discern whether or not the virus is being transmitted from person to person.
Additionally, the H7N9 virus appears to be targeting the elderly - unlike the H5N1 pandemic that primarily impacted younger populations. Virologists have not yet been able to explain this.
“One thing that is very striking is the age distribution of the cases,” Benjamin Cowling, associate professor at the University of Hong Kong, told Bloomberg. “They’re very different from the confirmed infections of H5N1.”
While human-to-human transmission has not been confirmed, it remains a disturbing fact that more than 40 percent of those infected by the H7N9 strain were not exposed to poultry, as Forbes reported on Monday.
Of the 21 deaths reported, the majority have occurred in Shanghai, according to China Daily.
Until human-to-human transmission can be confirmed, the threat of a global pandemic from the H7N9 strain remains muted.
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