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article imageWHO on 'high alert' over spread of bird flu to humans

By Karen Graham     Jan 26, 2017 in Health
The World Health Organization (WHO) is on "high alert" over the number of outbreaks of avian influenza in birds and poultry worldwide. There is real concern the virus could spread to humans, signaling the start of a flu pandemic.
News media has been tracking and reporting on the different strains of bird flu spreading across Europe and Asia since last year. With over 40 countries reporting outbreaks of the virus in poultry and in dead or captured wild birds, this has resulted in the wide-scale slaughter of many domestic bird flocks. But more troubling is the number of human deaths.
Scientists with WHO say the flu season this year is particularly dangerous because of the number of strains of bird flu circulating around the world. This increases the likelihood that deadly bird flu strains will begin infecting humans. The most worrisome strain is the H7N9 strain. It has circulated in China every winter since 2013 and has infected over 1.000 people, with a fatality rate of 39 percent.
Since September 2016, China has seen 225 cases of bird flu in humans, reports the New York Times. This is an unusually high number of cases, and with the country's Lunar New Year beginning soon, there is real concern that the increase in holiday travelers and live poultry shipments will lead to more people becoming infected.
There are more ominous worries, though. The signs are already present - signs that this outbreak could be the beginning of the worst possible scenario for pandemic flu: human-to-human transmission of avian influenza, reports the UN Dispatch.
Dr. Margaret Chan, the health organization’s director general, explains that avian influenza is transmitted from bird-to-bird and from birds to humans. It is not typically transmitted from human-to-human. The types of human flu we are familiar with are transmitted from one human to another, but these strains are not as dangerous as the avian flu virus, H7N9.
But two recent cases in China are suspected to have been transmitted human-to-human. Both cases involved older men with a history of poultry contact. One apparently infected his daughter who was taking care of him, and in the other case, the man infected his hospital roommate.
Dr. Chan told Reuters that under International Health Regulations, WHO's 194 member states are required to promptly detect and report any human cases of avian flu, adding, "We cannot afford to miss the early signals."
More about World health organization, Bird flu, Pandemic, 40 countries, deaths in china
 
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