Bird flu is a threat.
The H7N9 virus has not, however, yet proved able to spread between people – which limits its global threat.
The threat should be “treated calmly, but seriously”, researchers advised.
There is concern over both the pace and severity of the outbreak.
There has been a relatively high number of known infections since the first case was detected in April.
Prof John McCauley, the director of a World Health Organization (WHO) collaborating centre in the UK, said: “It is unusual to get these numbers.”
Of those infected, a fifth died, a fifth recovered and the rest are still ill. The infection results in severe pneumonia and even blood poisoning and organ failure.
“The WHO considers this a serious threat,” said Prof McCauley, “but we don’t know at this stage whether this is going to spread from human to human.”
So far nearly all cases have been traced back to contact with poultry. If the virus adapts to spread readily between people it will pose a much greater threat and scientists warn that the virus is mutating rapidly.
The last major bird flu, H5N1, made the jump to people in 1997 and killed more than three hundred people – yet, it is still unable to spread between humans.
Predicting which viruses will become deadly on a global scale is impossible.
Prof Jeremy Farrar, a leading expert in bird flu and the director-elect of one of the world’s largest research charities, the Wellcome Trust, said H7N9 needed to be taken seriously.
How the virus spreads is key. As long as it can spread only from a bird to a person through direct contact it posses a relatively small risk globally – particularly in richer countries where such contact is rare. If it can spread from one person to another then the threat becomes much more potent. This has not yet happened and it is impossible to tell whether it will happen tomorrow or never.
Author: Moses Echodu
Moses is a Ugandan writer and blogger. Studied information technology with major interests in Journalism.He is passionate about sports but at times ventures into other fields
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