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H7N9: is there reason to fear this flu?

Earlier this week, most of the general public began to see the first news reports on H7N9, a new strain of bird flu currently seen in China.

Now, only a few days later, the news is spreading. But has the flu spread with it? Should the general public be concerned?

Let’s look at the H7N9 facts. So far we’ve seen:

  • 16 confirmed cases in humans; the first documented cases of H7N9 ever seen in humans.
  • 6 confirmed deaths.
  • A wide distribution, with cases in three provinces around Shanghai as well as in Shanghai itself.

For University of Minnesota infectious disease expert, Michael Osterholm, Ph.D., M.P.H., School of Public Health and Director of the Center for Infections Disease and Policy (CIDRAP), the most concerning aspect of this outbreak is the lack of symptoms in the infected birds.

“Asymptomatic birds means we have no warning signs and no idea where the infected birds are located,” Osterholm explained. “The only way to know if a bird is infected is to test the animal. That’s what makes this different.”

To add a twist to this case, the outbreak is in China. News in China is still censored, so the information coming out may be delayed or limited.

Knowing that, where should you look for the most up-to-date and trustworthy information?

Maryn Michenna of shared a list of trusted resources the public can turn to for the best and most accurate news about the new bird flu.

Her short list of reporters include:

For now, there are a number of unanswered questions. The virus could turn into something extremely problematic or it could go quietly as other strains have done before. As Osterholm said, it’s too early to know if this will become a pandemic.

“We just don’t know enough to determine if there is a reason to be scared or not.”

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