Chinese bird flu ’unusually dangerous’ says WHO official

First case of H7N9 virus found outside China
Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General for Health Security and Environment of World Health Organization (WHO) answers a question during the press conference in Shanghai, China Monday, April 22, 2013. There’s no evidence a new bird flu strain is spreading easily among people in China even though there may be sporadic cases of the virus spreading to people who have close contacts with patients, the World Health Organization said Friday. Fifteen global and Chinese health experts are on a mission in Beijing and Shanghai to learn more about the H7N9 bird flu virus that has killed 17 people and sickened 70 others, said Dr. Michael O’Leary, head of WHO’s office in China. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Keiji Fukuda. (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)

The avian flu, virus H7N9, that is spreading in China is dangerous and highly contagious, an official from the World Health Organization warned.

The are concerns that this new strain is more easily transmitted from birds to humans than H5N1, another form of avian flu that has infected nearly 600 people since 2003 and has killed 371 people, says Keiji Fukuda, WHO assistant director general for health security.

The World Health Organization and Chinese officials have still not found evidence of human-to-human transmission.

“The situation remains complex and difficult and evolving,” Fukuda said at a media briefing. “When we look at influenza viruses, this is an unusually dangerous virus for humans.”

So far, 22 people have died from the virus and there have been 108 confirmed cases in total since the virus was first detected in mid-April. “Contacts of the confirmed cases are being closely monitored,” the WHO said in a release.

On Wednesday, officials also confirmed the first case of the virus outside of China. A 53-year-old man from Taiwan who was visiting the city of Suzhou in China “is in a serious condition in hospital,” reports the BBC. Taiwanese Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta said that the man had not been in contact with live poultry during his visit to China.

Most of the H5N1 cases have been in Shanghi, where the city closed live poultry markets earlier in the month in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus.

At this point, the WHO has not placed any trade or travel restrictions on China because of H7N9.