9 April 2013 All possible steps to monitor and contain the spread of the H7N9 influenza virus in China are being taken by local authorities, the United Nations health agency today announced, while confirming that seven people across the Asian country had already succumbed to the disease.
Speaking at a news briefing at the World Health Organization’s (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Gregory Härtl, a WHO spokesperson, told journalists that the UN had received notification from local officials of 24 confirmed cases of the H7N9 virus spread across four provinces but that as of yet there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission. Mr. Härtl added that of the 24 cases, 21 had ended in severe illness or death.
According to reports, the first documented case of this recent spell of infections was a 59-year-old male resident of Shanghai, who became ill on 25 March 2013, with numerous cases discovered shortly thereafter.
Some of the confirmed cases had contact with animals, such as pigeons from a market in Shanghai where traces of the virus were found. It is, however, not yet known how persons became infected. The possibility of both animal-to-human transmission and person-to-person transmission were being investigated, the WHO reported.
Most patients with this infection have had severe pneumonia, including symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath, but other aspects of the H7N9 virus are still largely unknown and the full spectrum of symptoms that infection with H7N9 might cause is still limited.
Due to the extent of the unknowns, Mr. Härtl urged residents of affected areas to refrain from consuming dead and diseased animals and reminded them that chicken should be thoroughly cooked before eating and that agricultural workers should practice good hygiene on farms.
In addition, he advised people to avoid diseased-looking birds as well as persons feeling “severely unwell.”
Responding to questions from reporters, Mr. Härtl stated that the UN agency had not yet decided whether to send WHO staff to China and that Chinese authorities had been re-examining their influenza monitoring procedures and were shuttering live markets in Shanghai where the disease was first discovered.
“Based on the current knowledge, everything possible is being done,” continued Mr. Härtl. He added that a suitable vaccine was being developed and would be completed in “a matter of weeks, not months.”
News Tracker: past stories on this issue