The H7N9 bird flu virus has infected four more critically ill patients in China, all in the eastern province of Jiangsu. The frightening news comes fast on the heels of Sunday’s announcement that two patients had already died of the rare strain in Shanghai. A third woman, living in Anhui, is now critically ill.
As we previously reported, this strain of bird flu is normally only a threat to poultry and to economic interests. A recent large outbreak of the H7N3 strain led to the slaughter of roughly two million birds in Mexico.
China’s announcement was particularly disquieting because it was the first time that the H7N9 bird flu strain had been known to infect humans. The younger victim worked butchering and selling poultry, but the older man was 87 and retired, raising questions about how he caught the illness.
Those questions grew even more troubling today. Avian Flu Diary posted an English translation of the announcement from the Jiangsu Province Health Department on H7N9. Of the four critically ill patients, one of them is a 45-year-old woman who worked as a live poultry butcher. Her 49 close contacts were checked, and none of them appeared to have the disease. So far, so good.
However, a 48-year old woman who worked in a sheet metal factory is also a victim, as is an 83-year-old retired man and a 32-year-old unemployed woman. Again, all of their close contacts were found, and none of them appeared to be infected. So where did they get the disease?
Chinese officials again reiterated their claim that the H7N9 bird flu virus is not passed by human-to-human contact. However, they’re still trying to figure out how it could have infected the cases where the patients had no contact with live birds.
The National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) has sent several teams to Shanghai, Anhui, and Jiangsu to investigate. They have also implemented emergency measures to help control the future spread of the infection.
For now, it’s a mystery how the H7N9 bird flu virus could have sickened and killed these patients.
[healthy Canada goose family photo by Elaine Radford]