Bird Flu Reemerges in China

Author:  Yangguang Ou
Institution:  Florida State University

China's top health officials have just confirmed the death of a 16-year-old boy from the deadly bird flu virus H5N1, as reported by the Associate Press. The boy became the third victim this month to have died from the disease. These three cases are the first reports of the reemergence of bird flu in China since February of 2007. China's top health officials are urging for immediate awareness and prevention measures against the deadly infection, which has already killed a 27-year- old woman in the Shandong province and a 19-year-old woman in Beijing this month. In addition, there have been 34 other reported cases of infection as well.

With the Lunar New Year coming soon, the Chinese government is especially concerned about the spread of the disease. During this time, tens of millions of people migrate to their rural homes for the New Year celebration, thus creating high chances for the spread of the deadly virus. According to the Associated Press, Chen Zhu, China's Health Minister, urged health officials across the provinces to be made fully aware of the risk and harm associated with bird flu, to increase monitoring, to strengthen clinical diagnoses and treatment, and to report outbreaks in a timely manner.

The avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, has many genetic strains. The relatively new strain, H5N1, which is highly pathogenic, is the one responsible for the recent deaths to the disease in China. The first bird case of H5N1 influenza was reported in 1996 and since then the virus has killed millions of poultry across Asia, Europe, and Africa. Due to the bird-to-human biological barrier, the difference in both biochemical and biological makeup, the virus does not cross easily to humans. However, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that infected birds usually shed viruses in their saliva, nasal secretions, feces and even blood. Thus, people who handle dead birds have a higher risk of acquiring the infection. Also, migratory birds may also spread the disease to other parts of the world. The first human case of H5N1 bird flu was reported in 1997 in Hong Kong and has since killed more than 250 people since 2003, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Symptoms include cough, sore throat, muscular aches, fever, pink eye, and in severe cases of infection, trouble breathing and even pneumonia. The severity of the infection, according to WHO, depends on the strength of the immune system and whether or not the patient has already contracted the virus before. Scientists, however, have reported the survival rate for the virus to be 40%, meaning that 60% of those who contracted the virus died from it, according to the data from WHO.

Peter Cordingley, China's spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO), said, "The latest cases are perfectly predictable events. The virus always starts to get active this time of year." The disease is difficult to diagnose. However scientists are urging for immediate preventive measures to contain the disease before it mutates into a form that can easily spread between people, thereby causing a pandemic.

Written by: Yangguang Ou

Edited by: Brittany Raffa

Published by: Hoi See Tsao