News / Asia

China Uses Past Experience to Cope with New Flu Virus

China Uses Past Experience to Cope with New Flu Virus i
X
April 09, 2013 11:46 PM
H7N9, the latest variant of the avian flu virus, has spread 700 kilometers across three Chinese provinces since it was identified last month. With researchers struggling to identify how the disease is transmitted, concern is mounting about its danger to humans. Ivan Broadhead has this report from Hong Kong.
Ivan Broadhead
Since the first H7N9 fatality was identified in Shanghai in early March, the latest variant of the avian flu virus has spread across three Chinese provinces - 700 kilometers apart.  Some 24 people are now infected and seven have died.  

China is stepping up surveillance measures after authorities closed Shanghai poultry markets last week and culled stocks after the virus was detected in local pigeons.  In Taiwan, supplies of anti-viral medicines are being made available for subsidized public sale.  
 
There are still questions about how susceptible H7N9 is to antiviral drugs like Tamiflu.  Shanghai Municipal Center for Disease Control reported Monday that a 4-year-old boy has made a full recovery, offering hope H7N9 can be treated successfully.
 
Professor Malik Peiris is scientific director of the Pasteur Research Center at Hong Kong University. He is also the first scientist to isolate the SARS virus that killed more than 700 people in 2002 and 2003.  He cautions against reading too much into the mortality rate of the flu virus.
 
“I think you have to be cautious about interpreting mortality rates because, usually, only the most severe cases are investigated.  There could be milder cases that go unrecognized.  So, on the one hand, this would make the mortality and the severity less.  But of course, on the other hand, it would mean there is more transmission occurring in humans too,” Peiris said.
 
Inspecting a poultry wholesale market Monday, Hong Kong health secretary Ko Wing-man said that by the end of this week live poultry imports will only be sold after 30 in every 1,000 birds are tested for H7N9.  Tests will be expedited and results returned within four hours.
 
But while governments are implementing response plans across Asia, Peiris warns that to develop vaccines and break the infection cycle, it is imperative the source of the outbreak be identified.
 
“Learning from H5N1, it is quite an unpredictable virus in that there are hundreds of people working closely with poultry who do not seem to get infected," he said. "But there is the one person who may have quite a tenuous contact who [does] … So, I think what is crucial is to go upstream, along the poultry marketing chain, ideally to the farms, and identify which species is the main source.” 

Hong Kong is still commemorating the 10th anniversary of SARS, which infected thousands as it spread from China across three continents.  Many here are fearful the Chinese government coverup that contributed to the spread of SARS could be repeated with H7N9.
 
Thomas Abraham, director of the public health media program at Hong Kong University and author of "21st Century Plague; the Story of SARS," believes this is unlikely.  Beijing has learned valuable lessons since SARS, and social media challenge governments’ ability to control information.
 
“One of the early [H7N9] cases in Shanghai, even though the hospital said nothing, the patient’s admission slip was photographed and put up on Weibo (China’s Twitter)," he said. "This kind of information flow is a dam that is unstoppable.  It is an entirely new environment the Chinese authorities are working in.”  
 
Although World Health Organization officials have said there is no need for panic, Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, warns there could be trying times ahead if the H7N9 death toll continues to rise.
 
“What 2009 taught us with the swine flu [pandemic] is that global solidarity can break down very fast.  Countries start closing airports and quarantining travelers; they start hoarding drugs and vaccines. It is not a pretty pictur,” Garrett said.
 
Though public sentiment remains fragile, some reassurance was offered by Hong Kong University last week.  Researchers there announced they will revisit a 2009 study in order to confirm that surgical masks, seen widely on the streets of Hong Kong in peak influenza season, are indeed 70 percent effective in preventing the spread of flu viruses.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More