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Date [ 2013-04-08, 15:05 ]

Are we in for another avian flu pandemic?


(Kuala Lumpur=Koreanpress) by Ramani Rathir = Memories of H1N1 have hardly died away and we have another flu hitting us – H7N9. Do these figures indicate the virus is even much stronger and dangerous? It looks like it, as the virus has a mortality rate that is 60 per cent higher than H1N1, which only had a 0.4 per cent risk.


Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai has informed that in Malaysia, there has been no report of the H7N9 flu in the country. So far!  

Remember how from Hong Kong the flu rapidly spread all over the world. It is still on in India with 40 people dead last year. So there is no guarantee the disease will stay on in China where it all began. The latest report has 14 people affected, with six dead from the virus.

While Malaysia is still free from H7N9, the government is already taking precautionary measures to prevent its entry. It is in touch with the World Health Organisation on how best to deal with this new strain of avian influenza.  The Minister revealed that,"We have stepped up surveillance at all entry points to block and ensure the monitoring of carriers or any disease from abroad."


The symptoms are very similar to H1N1, in that patients suffer stomach flu and prolonged fever. Those with such symptoms are advised to undergo screening at any hospital or clinic.

At the moment, the source of the outbreak is unknown and there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission. “Nobody knows how the virus was transmitted to these individuals,” stated a researcher of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. He added that,” This type of influenza is part of a group that is known to circulate among birds but no human cases of H7N9 had been reported until now.”  He went on to say, “Analysis of the three virus isolates has shown that the viruses are sensitive to the anti-influenza drugs that target the virus neuraminidase, Tamiflu and Relenza.”


So far it is unclear how virulent H7N9 is, and the death rate does raise concern. Health authorities feel that people with milder symptoms need to be tested to determine if the disease can be contained in China or a more widespread infection is on the way.


The medical circle is aware that the H7 family of viruses is bird flues that have crossed to poultry workers many times, causing such illnesses as respiratory infection and conjunctivitis. Suggestions have been made that routine flu jabs or past flu infection might provide cross-protection. Though it is a remarkably different virus, it is possible that cross-protection can take place, as happened with the past three pandemics.

Also, it is expected that if the Chinese discover that H7N9 is spread through chickens, then large scale poultry culling will occur. At this juncture, they have acted promptly to contain the disease. But is it enough?


One main concern is that the outbreak has happened at different sites in China. It suggests that H7N9 is spreading rapidly though the bird populations in these regions. As yet no data has been released on the existing poultry population. If an outbreak does occur later, then all the current stockpiled bird flu vaccines, on which the U.S government has spent billions, will be useless. Simply because this is a different strain (H7N9) to the stockpiled vaccine (H5N1).

It must be understood that poultry and pigs are infected globally with various strains of influenza. There are also isolated cases of human infection by direct contact. But usually the disease is mild. However, when infected livestock and humans die in large numbers, the alarm bells start to ring.

Thus far, humans have not been exposed to an H7N9 strain of virus, and will therefore have no immunity to this strain. It leaves them open to H7N9 infections, than to the commonly circulating seasonal strains of flu.

Australia has taken an early step and developed molecular tests to identify this virus. It is for people falling ill after returning from China, especially if they had been to the cities of Huzhou, Shanghai and the province of Zhejiang, Illnesses and death due to the flu have taken place in these places.

In Malaysia, the Health Department is closely monitoring the health of livestock. Sarawak’s State Health Director, Datu Dr Zulkifli Jantan informed.”We have cautioned the public to be careful when handling animals, especially dead animals. Also to practise good sanitary and hygienic habits when working with animals, especially when preparing or cooking food.”

Hopefully as with H5N1, this new variant will not acquire the ability for human to human transmission – however if it does, it could cause the next major human influenza pandemic. You have been warned!

One bright spark – shares of glove makers have risen on the Malaysian stock market as the emergence of H7N9 seems to have spurred a demand for gloves! 


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