Seems that we have a newly emerging avian flu virus in the Shanghai region of China. Utterly unrelated to H5N1, this one is an H7N9 strain and never been seen before in humans. I spotted it at the beginning of the week (while ironically looking for the latest news on the new corona virus -emerging diseases are a bit of an interest of mine)
So far it has killed 6 and 14 are officially declared to be infected. It seems to have first popped up mid February but since identified at the weekend the cases seem to be starting to pop up quite quickly.
From what I've read it's a low pathogen avian flu, which means that it doesn't tend to kill birds off, but it has aquired genes which are adapted to mammalian infection. (Flu viruses are great at swapping genes amongst themeselves) Yesterday the Chinese authorities said they have found it in pigeons in a market and so are closing down poultry markets in the area.
Some are linking it to the 14,00 pig deaths found in rivers in shanghai in mid march and indeed pigs can be a good carrier of some flu strains, but authorities say they haven't found any evidence of flu in the pigs though they still don't know what killed them.
WHO currently say there is no evidence of sustained human to human transmission. It could stay that way, lots of viruses don't really adapt properly to a species and fade out. On the very positive side, scientists are really alert to emerging viruses now and detect new ones very quickly. This means that alerts go up very quickly about diseases that fail to get hold in the human population. So hopefully it may well be the same with this virus.
I hadn't seen anything on the news about this, but I was probably looking in the wrong places. From what I understand (which isn't much) one of the problems with flu viruses is their ability to mutate and to cross over to other species. And then it depends on how good the recipient species' immune systems are in producing effective antibodies.
I think some of the problems in getting the public to take these sorts of issues seriously is that, as you say, sometimes outbreaks just fizzle out. Also, although I understand the naming of these flu viruses, calling them bird flu or swine flu makes them seem as though they're really only something to do with a duck or a pig getting a touch of the sniffles. And, of course, most cases of flu in humans are regarded as being not much more than a bad cold with a fever, so even when flu jabs are made available, the uptake isn't as good as it could be to prevent a pandemic. I recall when I was working as a secretary in a NHS hospital, that all staff were given the option of having a flu jab. Initially, I didn't bother, because I wasn't in one of the vulnerable groups - not young, not old, not immuno-compromised - until it was pointed out that I could be a carrier.
I think another problem is people in the West understanding how these viruses occur and how they get transmitted from animals to humans. One book I've got here says that between 1968 and 2004, China went from 5 million pigs to 508 million pigs, and from 12 million poultry to 13 billion poultry. Those are huge populations, where viruses could have a field day. But it's when those animals get to market that the crossover to humans can take place. Unlike in the West, most food animals are traditionally bought live in Asian markets. That possibly gets round the salmonella problem, but it does mean that the viruses have an amazingly good opportunistic way of jumping to humans.
There still seems to be some uncertainty about the initial origin of 1918 flu epidemic, but there's no uncertainty about the death toll.
This is a fascinating yet scary subject. Thanks, OYBBK, for raising this issue. If nothing else, it might prompt people to get a flu jab if they're offered one.
There is very little on the news at the moment, I think there are more immediate concerns for people....
A vaccine will be several months off. From what I've read they've started looking at the virus samples to find a suitable seed virus. As some of you will know flu viruses are very unstable and you can think of them as more like a virus swarm each subtly different. Once they select suitable candidates they need to be extensively tested and they need to find ones that grow well in eggs. Only then can they produce a vaccine that will take several months to grow in sufficient quantities. I think there are new techniques now that don't need eggs but I don't know how available that technology has become since the last pandemic.
The 1918 flu affected around 25% of the population and killed around 2.5% of those infected. with one of the hardest hit demographics being young men. Of course we have no idea how this one will go, there were huge fears at the beginning of pH1N1, the pandemic flu that swept the world in 2009 and it fortunately didn't pan out in the way feared and obviously most new flus don't.
Which book is it you are reading alci? Have you seen this article which whilst dives rather into speculation is nevertheless a thought provoking piece.
If you want to follow this then PFI are a good forum to watch as long as you bear in mind they are flu preppers and many have their 'we are all doomed' settings on maximum level. They are very good at ferreting out news articles.
There are 2 more cases reported so far today. There are said to be two family clusters which may indicate human to human transmission, or of course they have become sick from the same source.
Interesting things to note:
There is a large geographical spread of these cases over a short period of time which is interesting as so few cases overall have been reported. It's as if it emerged in several places at once. Even if it has been in an animal reservoir like pigeons for sometime, spreading silently, why did it suddenly emerge in humans in several places at once?
At the moment almost all of the cases have resulted in critical illness or death. Even the feared h5n1 'only' has a mortality rate of 60%. As i said before the 1918 flu had a mortality of around 2.5%. This means that at this point in time either a)this is an incredibly lethal flu or b)there are far more cases than being reported and most of them are mild.
When the h1n1 pandemic first started in 2009 in California, reports of severe illness and mortality were fairly alarming. As we know it settled down pretty quickly to resemble previous 'mild' pandemics. If this new virus does spread (and its still a big if) perhaps it will do the same.
But they're not to everyone's taste, because they are lectures delivered mostly straight to camera in a studio, with some explanatory graphics. But, unlike TV documentaries, if it's a 30-minute lecture, it's 30 minutes of talking. I find that they do need watching several times because there's a lot of information which I don't always pick up on first or second time round. Another thing is that they're expensive, so I only buy them when they're on special offer. (And then, every month or so, I get another catalogue in the post, with different courses on special offer, and I'm all, like, ooh, must buy that one! So, I've got quite a few that are on my repeat viewing list.)
There are three lectures in that course devoted to the 1918 flu epidemic and, from memory, one of the difficulties that the scientists/medics at the time were having to grapple with was how did the disease appear in seemingly unconnected places in Europe and the USA. But that was probably the first time when a virus could possibly piggy-back on such fast dispersion as troop movements in the latter part of World War I.
The latest news is worrying, because it could either be isolated but coincidentally simultaneous outbreaks, which is a worry in itself, or it could be that there's a line of transmission they have yet to track down.
The blog talks about why people would be reluctant to come forward and admit that they are unwell. It mentions the fear of unaffordable health care costs, which apparently happened during SARS, even though the Chinese government have said that healthcare for h7n9 will be free. I can understand this. What if they went to hospital, were put in isolation, only to find that it wasn't h7n9. A week in hospital costs the equivalent of an entire years salary there.
It also mentions fear of being put into isolation for long periods of time.
One (other) thing I'm finding a bit strange is that all the cases (perhaps bar one) became ill in feb or March. No one has been discovered to have sickened with the illness since WHO were notified at the end of March. Culling of birds didn't start until thursday 5th April, so it's not that the source of the infection was suddenly halted. I know viruses can be really strange, but this suggests to me that there is at the very least a time delay of info being released.
I'm going to have to have a really good read, thanks jimjams
Just 3 more cases today reported. Bit of a problem though it appears with the Chinese government claiming people are becoming directly infected from birds. The genetic sequences don't quite match between the human infections and the bird infections. Brief info here which you could infer means that the human cases have not been acquired directly from the birds that they have found. I don't really fully understand the science behind the genetics I think the main change that 'they' are concerned about is one that increases the virulence of the virus and also allows it to thrive in mammals (by lowering the temperature it likes to live at, avian flus are adapted to the higher temps of birds, mammalian flus are adapted to our lower temps)
Am hoping that a geneticist will wander by and help with this! Way beyond my knowledge base!