New Flu Strain in China: How Far Will It Spread?

It was four years ago this month that a new strain of flu virus was reported in Mexico and captured global attention. Ultimately, the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic. More than 18,000 people died in 2009 from the virus.

Now, in China, global influenza experts are watching another novel virus, H7N9. So far, nine people are sick, and three are dead. As Helen Branswell at The Canadian Press (and self-described “flu freak“) reports “those first three sick people and the genetic sequences of the flu viruses that infected them were enough to make the hairs on the backs of knowledgeable necks stand on end.”

Branswell also tweeted that case “numbers are a moving target” right now.

She lays out why flu experts are racing to determine if we’re on the brink of the second pandemic in five years in this report:

Influenza scientists always pay attention when animal flu viruses start making people sick. There is a rich soup of flu viruses in nature, most of which human immune systems have never seen. Many of those viruses, at least in theory, have the potential to trigger pandemics.

So when China notified the World Health Organization over the weekend that it had found three cases of infection with H7N9 viruses, there was immediate concern. Continue reading