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New Details About H7N9 Flu Infections

Older men appear to be more susceptible (June 19)

A report by researchers at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, published in PLOS Currents: Outbreaks, has provided new information about the deadly strain of type A influenza known as H7N9.

Since June 7, 132 confirmed cases of human infection with H7N9 have been reported in China, and 37 people have died, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It is the first time human infection with the avian influenza H7N9 subtype has been detected, and researchers fear that this strain may have pandemic potential.

The possibility of an animal source of the infection is being investigated, as is the possibility of person-to-person transmission. However, most people who contracted the disease reported having contact with live birds in a bird market prior to infection. Researchers at Virginia Tech found that younger women generally have the most contact with poultry, but it is older men who are experiencing the most infections.

The findings suggest that there is something unique about older men that makes them particularly susceptible to H7N9. Their greater risk of infection is not just because they tend to spend more time exposed to an avian source.

The researchers compiled the data using a variety of available sources to discover risk factors that could aid in containing the spread of H7N9.

To limit the spread of this strain of influenza, some Chinese live bird markets have been closed. That may help, the researchers say, but it still does not explain the high infection rate in older men. The investigators call for further studies to understand what other factors may be involved in transmission to help contain H7N9’s spread.

Source: Virginia Tech; June 19, 2013.

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