In a news briefing on Wednesday, The World Health Organization (WHO) called the H7N9 avian virus “one of the most lethal influenza viruses we have seen so far.” To date, the virus has caused 24 deaths, and there have been 126 cases.
There are many unknowns surrounding the avian flu, including how the virus is spread. Here are answers to some common questions:
Can people transmit the avian flu virus to each other?
Experts sill don’t know whether the avian flu virus can spread through human-to-human contact, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asserts that “no sustained person-to-person spread of the H7N9 virus has been found at this time.”
While there seems to be little to no human-to-human transmission, authorities say that it could happen in the future, due to the virus mutating. Right now, authorities don’t know how people become infected. Some people who have contracted the avian flu virus have had contact with animals, or come into contact with environments that have housed animals. Experts have found the avian flu virus in pigeons, ducks and chickens near places where cases have been reported according to the WHO.
An international team of experts is investigating possible sources, as well as whether or not the virus can spread through human-to-human contact.
Could the avian flu virus become a pandemic?
A pandemic is a sudden widespread outbreak that affects a whole region, a continent, or the world. Any virus that jumps from animals to humans may possibly cause a pandemic. Currently experts don’t know whether the H7N9 virus will cause a pandemic, though it remains a possibility.
Are Chinese products safe?
So far the WHO has not issued any recommendations on trade restrictions on Chinese products as there is no evidence linking Chinese products to cases of avian flu.
Is it safe to travel to China?
The WHO has also recommended that no travel restrictions be applied at this time.
What is being done to stem the spread of the avian flu virus?
Local, national and global authorities have been quick to mobilize in response to the outbreak. Live poultry markets in Shanghai have been closed and cleaned to reduce the risk of the avian flu virus spreading. Experts are exploring current and potential cases, and investigating possible sources of infection. Unlike the H5N1 avian flu virus that has infected over 600 people since 2003, the H7N9 virus does not obviously affect poultry, meaning that it may be harder to contain.
Is a vaccination available?
No, but the WHO in partnership with others, is currently working to develop a vaccine. The first step in the development of a vaccine is to isolate and characterize viruses from confirmed avian flu cases, then choose candidate viruses that could possible go into a vaccine. Currently, patients with the virus are being treated with antiviral drugs.
Is it safe to eat meat?
Yes, if cooked properly, according to the WHO. Properly cooked meat will have no pink parts, and will have an internal temperature of 158 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees Celsius). Diseased animals and animals that have died of disease should not be eaten.