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Update on Deadly H7N9 Flu Strain

Current fatality rate is about 20% (Apr. 25)

In a recent report from Reuters, the World Health Organization (WHO) called the new H7N9 strain of influenza virus “one of the most lethal” flu viruses.

Although the virus strain has not resulted in any confirmed cases in the U.S., authorities want the public to be aware of and vigilant about this new strain of flu, which is spreading in China and Taiwan, and which poses a pandemic threat, said Lee Norman, MD, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Hospital. Norman was briefed on the virus during a recent regional Homeland Security committee meeting.

“This is a brand new strain of flu,” Norman reported. “This is not the H5N1 bird flu that we’ve known about for 15 or 16 years, nor is it associated with the SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome] epidemic. This is brand new, just recently genetically typed out for the first time, and there’s a whole lot we don’t know about it.”

Norman says the virus is most likely an airborne-transmitted disease, but researchers don’t fully know how it spreads. In a video interview, Norman answered several questions that will help the public understand the virus and be more vigilant. He stated that:

  • The current fatality rate is about 20%, which makes H7N9 a very dangerous virus.
  • Fatalities are following the same general patterns as other flu virus outbreaks, which means that older and younger populations, as well as those with immune issues, are at increased risk.
  • While no vaccines are available at this time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating this situation. Vaccines for other flu strains do not seem to prevent the H7N9 strain.

Norman advises people traveling to and from China who experience flu-like symptoms to seek immediate health care for observation, testing, and perhaps isolation.

“We are past the peak seasonal flu, and so a person showing symptoms who is associated with travel should drive a higher suspicion,” Norman said.

Sources: University of Kansas Hospital; April 25, 2013; and Reuters; April 25, 2013.

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