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Should We Be Worried About the Avian Flu?

April 26, 2013, 10:51 PM

What's the Latest Development?

There has been a recent uptick in avian influenza, or bird flu, in China and authorities are asking how dangerous the virus might become. Thus far, there have been over a hundred reported cases and more than twenty deaths. "When examining a new influenza strain, scientists focus on two things. First, the virulence, or severity of the illness that the virus causes; and second, the communicability, or how easily the virus is passed from person to person. ... Scientists [say the H7N9 has a] 'stuttering transmission,' in which an animal virus infects a person, but further human-to-human transmission does not occur."

What's the Big Idea? 

Some have compared the potential of the avian flu to the Spanish Flu of 1918 which was one of the deadliest plagues the world has ever known. And while the two diseases have the same mortality rates, it may be the case that hundreds of people have but mild avian infections. "If there is one thing that is worrying scientists about H7N9, it’s that there is probably little preexisting immunity to it. We’ve never had this variant before, so our bodies don’t know how to fight it. ... For now, the C.D.C. is working with pharmaceutical manufacturers to reverse-engineer H7N9 in order to help develop a potential open-source (i.e. freely shared ) vaccine, if a special vaccine becomes necessary."

Read it at the New Yorker

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com


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