No New Cases Of Bird Flu, Despite Three More Deaths In China
May 14, 2013

No New Cases Of Bird Flu, Despite Three More Deaths In China

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Despite three new deaths being attributed to H7N9 bird flu, no new cases have been reported since May 7, according to Nature News correspondent Declan Butler.

Reuters, citing state-owned Xinhua news agency, reported yesterday (May 13) that China has seen three more deaths related to the new bird flu strain that arose at the end of March. These latest deaths bring the toll to 35, while the number of infections sits steady at 130.

Without going into too many details, Xinhua said one new case of H7N9 was found in the Jiangxi province. The news firm reiterated that there still exists no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the disease, which the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling the most lethal strain seen to date.

Butler, who reported on April 24 that an exclusive map released by Nature showed how the virus was expanding its geographical range, said in today´s report the epidemic has gone into a lull, with only one person falling ill since the beginning of May.

The drop in new cases may be a sign that Chinese officials are moving in the right direction by instigating proper measures to control the spread of the disease, including closure of live bird markets. But it´s too early to tell if those measures are, in fact, working at keeping infection rates down.

As of May 8, a day after the last new case was confirmed, China reported to the WHO a total of 131 lab-confirmed cases and 32 confirmed deaths — 35 with the three latest deaths. Several reports from various media outlets have not reported a change in those numbers since May 13, according to Butler.

While it is not entirely known why the drop-off in infection has occurred, closure of live bird markets is only one hypothesis. A second theory is seasonality. Past avian flu outbreaks have often followed seasonal patterns, with most outbreaks occurring during colder months of the year.

Chinese scientists studying the latest outbreak have, as in the past, linked transmission to humans from chickens. However, the WHO says 40 percent of the people who have been infected with H7N9 have had no contact with poultry of any kind.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintained that the current strain cannot start a pandemic. Still, there is no guarantee it will not mutate, possibly leading to a serious pandemic in the future, it added.

While cases of H7N9 have appeared to subside, the Sri Lankan government moved to suspend all meat imports from China and double its monitoring of wild bird populations to protect the island nation against bird flu, according to an official with the WHO on Tuesday.

Thousands of wild birds flock to Sri Lanka on a yearly basis and officials are concerned the bird flu could be carried into the country via avian migration, said Dr. W.K. de Silva, director of the government´s Animal Production and Health Department.

"We have doubled the number of samples that we collect from wild birds, particularly those that migrate to certain wetlands in Sri Lanka. The department has also suspended meat imports from countries where bird flu incidents have been reported. We will intensify the checks until the WHO warning is lifted," he said in a statement to Xinhua.

De Silva said suspension of meat imports also proved successful during a previous outbreak of the disease.