H7N9 Bird Flu: Your Questions Answered
Hong Kong confirmed its first human case of the deadly H7N9 bird flu. Here's everything you need to know.
A 36-year old woman is the first person in Hong Kong to be infected with the H7N9 avian flu virus. The Indonesian domestic helper -- having recently traveled to Shenzhen where she bought, slaughtered and ate a chicken -- is in the hospital and in critical condition. Following the case, Hong Kong has raised its level of preparedness for an influenza pandemic to "serious." 17 of the Indonesian woman's close contacts, mostly relatives, have been quarantined and are being observed. Here are some questions you might have about the deadly strain:
What is H7N9?
H7N9 is a flu virus that usually infects birds such as chickens and wild geese. According to the World Health Organization, the H7N9 strain first emerged in humans in Shanghai, China in March this year. It spread to more than 100 people within weeks.
How serious is the threat?
Although this particular strain appears to spread quickly, the number of cases in Shanghai dropped significantly after live poultry markets were closed in the affected areas. There is also no evidence of sustained human-to-human infection. The WHO said that there have been 139 laboratory-confirmed human cases of the H7N9 virus, including 45 deaths.
Will it come stateside?
No, it appears. The CDC says the risk of H7N9 infection is “low.” However, TIME reports, "it is possible that travelers to Asian countries where the virus has been found in chickens and other poultry could become infected and bring this bird flu to the U.S."
Will my flu shot work against H7N9?
While this year’s flu shot protects against H1N1, H3N2, TIME reports that this vaccine wont work against H7N9, but researchers are currently working on one.
How is it compared to H1N1?
Some reports say that the H7N9 is deadlier than H1N1 because H7N9 virus can make genetic changes that could infect people more easily. But the severity is unclear because there have been so few human cases known.
"Hong Kong takes the threat of new disease extremely seriously after Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS first emerged in the city in 2003. The outbreak went on to infect 8,096 people and kill 744 worldwide," CNN reports.
Are you worried about the new strain of bird flu?