The bird flu death toll rose to 16 on Tuesday as people all across China don masks in fear of a possible pandemic. The death toll rose when two more people in the country died of the newly discovered H7N9 virus.
The government also warned that the number of infections could rise. The latest victims of the deadly virus were in the country’s commercial capital of Shanghai. That area is where the majority of the 77 reported cases have been found so far.
Officials are still looking for the cause of the bird flu and some samples have tested positive in some birds occupying poultry markets in the infection area. Those poultry markets remain under investigation by China and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
But only about 10 of the 77 infected by the new virus had contact with poultry before they came down with the strain, which emerged just two weeks ago. Since then, China’s poultry sector has recorded losses of more than $1.6 billion. Authorities also slaughtered thousands of birds and closed live poultry markets in an attempt to stem the spread of the disease.
But another complicating matter came to light on Tuesday. A four-year-old boy in Beijing tested positive as a carrier for the disease. While he tested positive for the H7N9 virus, he is so far an asymptomatic carrier. The boy emerged when authorities screend 24 poultry owners in Naidong Village. They took throat swabs of those in contact with the group.
The carrier boy was also part of a group of close contacts with the first infection in Beijing. The boy’s parents were poultry and fish traders, according to reports.
Dr. Leo Poon Lit-man, associate professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong, stated that medical authorities should remain on alert, despite there being no evidence so far that the bird flu can be transmitted from human to human. Dr. Poon explained:
“It really depends on whether this H7N9 virus is transmissible between humans … that key question needs to be answered. So far, we do not know the full spectrum of the clinical presentations of these H7N9 patients. In the beginning, we were only able to detect it because there were some severe cases and some people actually died.”
H7N9 is normally found in birds, but last month the first cases began to emerge showing that the virus had jumped from birds to humans. While scientists continue to search for clues to how the virus transformed, virologists in the US are going to work on a vaccine to prevent a possible pandemic from breaking out.
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