There is a new virus in China - a form of influenza denoted as H7N9. It is the same type of virus (Influenza A) as both the H1N1 "swine flu" (pandemic of 2009), and the H5N1 "bird flu" virus, that since 2003 has killed over 550 people, a lot of birds, and some animals. In other words, it is yet another virus that seems to have crossed the species barrier. Whereas it may all fizzle out, this "flu" could become the next pandemic.
So why am I blogging about a "flu" on this site? Well, there is a chance that it could be transmitted through food - not just through handling raw poultry or meat in an unsanitary way, but through eating it. Let's remember that these days the world, including the U.S., imports a great deal of food from China.
Here are the facts - at least as far as we know them. H7N9 has so far sickened at least 21 humans and killed eight of them, all in eastern China and at least four of the six dead are in the financial hub of Shanghai, a city of 20 million people. Note the high fatality rate, as was the case with "bird flu." In addition, there have been tens of thousands of bird deaths (ducks, swans, pigeons,sparrows..). It may also have killed those Zhejiang pigs, which died from some mysterious ailment, with their carcasses floating down among garbage in the Huangpu River.
Yes, just a small numbers of human deaths, but China and some of the rest of the world is taking this new virus seriously. China has said it was mobilizing resources nationwide to combat it. Some airlines and schools in the country have been removing chicken from their menus. Poultry markets in Eastern China are reported to be closing. Japan and Hong Kong stepped up vigilance at airports . Vietnam has banned import of Chinese poultry. Other nations, including the United States, are closely watching the situation.
In fact the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday (April 4), announced that it had begun work on a vaccine against H7N9 (which could take up to six months). The CDC also includes an alert on the virus for travelers to China. Even Chinese stocks, and those with large operations in China (such as Yum! brands) were temporarily affected.
So how is the virus transmitted? The global authorities all seem to be saying that there is no evidence at this point of person-to-person contact, but research is still ongoing: the 160 or so persons in China who had close contact with the four initial victims are being very closely watched.
Authorities in China are clamping down on any food-related risks, just in case. Even though there is still denial that the Zhejiang pigs who died in such large numbers were actually killed by this virus, the Chinese authorities took action. On March 25, they seized manufactured pork buns that were found to be made from pigs that had died, or, at least had lived with the ones that died. There was also rapid action when an infected pigeon was found for sale in the marketplace near Shanghai. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization is advising people to be careful not just in their personal hygiene, but with what they eat (see next post).
I'll keep you posted.
To your good health,