New Bird Flu Strain Kills Two In Shanghai

A new strain of bird flu H7N9 has killed two men in Shanghai, China, according to an announcement Monday from China's state media. One man was only 27 years old. A 35-year-old woman in a province near Shanghai, the world's largest city, is in critical condition.

It's the first time that the H7N9 strain has infected humans.

People are understandably nervous about the new strain, especially in the wake of China's ongoing dead animal scandal. In March, the media was jolted by numerous reports of dead animals floating in China's waterways. One thousand dead ducks were found in a Sichuan province river. They were pulled from the water, wrapped in plastic, and then buried 10 feet underground.

An even more outrageous scandal has arisen because of 16,000 dead pigs found floating in waterways supplying drinking water to Shanghai. State authorities had initially admitted to finding only 900 of the dead animals but later revealed the higher figure after an investigation by a Chinese newspaper, which claimed that there could be as many as 20,000.

All three of the H7N9 bird flu victims developed pneumonia. The older man who died was 87, and Chinese officials said that both men had chronic illness. The 27-year-old worked butchering birds. The female patient also had undescribed "contact" with birds. However, the officials aren't giving much detailed information.

Both Taiwan and Hong Kong said that they will step up surveillance of arrivals from mainland China at their airports. Residents are reportedly grumbling that the news of the deaths wasn't released for several weeks while medical workers verified the bird flu strain.

H7N9 is normally a strain that impactsonly poultry. However, the cost of even those strains is extremely high. In early March, we reported on a report that two million chickens in Mexico's poultry-producing region had to be destroyed to fight a bird flu outbreak there.

In Mexico, the fear is rising food costs and price speculation. In China, there's a new fear -- the potential for human death from the H7N9 strain of bird flu.

[chicken photo by Elaine Radford]