Reported cases of the H7N9 strain of avian flu are increasing in number and geographical spread throughout China. New cases reported this weekend took the toll to 60 and the total death toll to 13.
More worrying is the spread of the virus. As of last Friday (April 12) it was thought to have been largely contained to Shanghai and nearby provinces on China’s eastern coast. Yesterday (April 14) two cases were confirmed in Henan province, which is in central China. The day before, it was confirmed a 7-year-old girl had been infected in Beijing, China’s capital, which is in the northern part of the country.
Nikki Shindo, a medical officer on the influenza team at the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva, told Bloomberg that the Beijing case was “very important”, because, “theoretically all China’s coastline provinces are touched by this virus, which means the great majority of China is at risk.”
The WHO said April 12 there was no still evidence that the virus is being transmitted from humans to humans. If the virus did mutate into a form easily transmissible by humans, that would have the potential to trigger a pandemic. Some experts say it is already showing signs of adapting to have such pandemic potential.
It is possible the Chinese authorities are downplaying the risks of avian flu after taking 27 days to report the first H7N9 death. China has a history of covering up diseases, as it did with SARS in 2003. The government has been blocking some online discussion of avian flu and detained people for spreading what authorities called “fake information” about new infections. That said, health experts are praising China for its transparency this time. And the WHO itself has not sounded the pandemic alarm yet.