The New Bird Flu Could Be Way More Widespread Than Tests Are Showing; Even patients on their death beds are only “weakly positive”; New Bird Flu Seen Having Some Markers of Airborne Killer; “This virus really doesn’t look like a bird virus anymore; it looks like a mammalian virus.”

The New Bird Flu Could Be Way More Widespread Than Tests Are Showing

Jennifer Welsh | Apr. 5, 2013, 6:36 PM | 2,527 | 5

A new bird flu is infecting patients across China, currently 16 patients have tested positive for the virus and six have died. But some flu watchers are convinced that the test that doctors are using to detect the H9N7 virus are faulty — that they aren’t sensitive enough. Even patients on their death beds are only “weakly positive” Laurie Garrett, senior editor for the Council on Foreign Relations and flu-outbreak-follower notes on twitter: This could mean that the test is missing vital cases before they get to the seriously ill stage, so we won’t know who is infected until it gets really bad. It could also mean the virus is more widespread than tests are showing us. This is especially important for the 520 people that the WHO is monitoring for infection. These people were in close contact with people who died or became seriously ill. Reports yesterday said that one of these people showed flu-like symptoms but tests later confirmed to show negative results. If that test was faulty…. that person could still have the virus. And it would be a sign that the virus can spread between humans — a very dangerous omen. There are also reports that animals are falling ill with the disease, even birds falling out of the sky. These animals test negative for the virus, but if the tests are faulty, that could be a big problem.

New Bird Flu Seen Having Some Markers of Airborne Killer

The new bird influenza that’s killed six people in eastern China has some of the genetic hallmarks of an easily transmissible virus, according to the scientist who showed how H5N1 avian flu could become airborne.

The H7N9 strain, which is a new virus formed as a result of two others merging their genetic material, has features of viruses that are known to jump easily from birds to mammals, and a mutation that may help it attach to cells in the respiratory tract, said Ron Fouchier, a professor of molecular virology at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, in a telephone interview yesterday.

“That’s certainly not good news,” said Fouchier, who reviewed a gene sequencing of H7N9 published by Chinese health authorities. “This virus really doesn’t look like a bird virus anymore; it looks like a mammalian virus.”To curb the spread of H7N9, officials in Shanghai have halted trading in live poultry, closed bird markets and slaughtered more than 20,000 birds. The outbreak, in which 16 people have been infected, caused soybean futures and airline stocks to fall yesterday on concern the virus may spark a pandemic.

While there’s no evidence yet of human-to-human transmission, scientists are scrutinizing the virus’s genetic makeup for clues to the threat it may pose.

Fouchier authored a study last year that showed five genetic tweaks to the deadly H5N1 virus, which has killed more than 600 people since 2003, made it airborne in ferrets, the mammals whose response to flu most closely resembles that of humans.

‘More Concern’

One of the mutations he made is in an enzyme called polymerase; another was in a protein called hemagglutinin on the surface of the virus. H7N9 has both mutations, he said.

“This virus is certainly of more concern than the vast majority of bird flu viruses,” Fouchier said. “Most bird flu viruses that we know do not have these mutations.”

Whether those mutations alone are enough to make the virus easily transmissible isn’t clear, and should be “high on the research agenda,” Fouchier said. Still, there’s no evidence yet that the virus is more likely to become more dangerous than H5N1, he said.

“Even if we see relatively high numbers of human cases, it doesn’t mean a pandemic is imminent,” he said. “H5N1 has circulated for 16 years and not become mammal-to-mammal transmissible.”

Heightened Vigilance

As part of its surveillance effort, China needs to conduct blood serum testing among all people who have been in contact with confirmed cases to look for antibodies that form in response to an infection, said Roy Anderson, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College London. That will indicate how many people have been infected with the virus, including those who aren’t showing symptoms, he said.

“Heightened vigilance needs to be in place at the moment,” said Anderson. While no human-to-human transmission has yet occurred, once an epidemic gets established, the doubling time can be very fast. “That’s why much needs to be done very thoroughly at the beginning to ascertain whether this is a risk or not.”

Unlike H5N1, which is highly lethal for birds, H7N9 is a so-called low-pathogenic virus in birds, meaning it may be widespread without causing severe sickness, Fouchier said. That would make it difficult to eradicate, he said. It doesn’t necessarily follow that the virus will be mild in humans, he said.

Spanish Flu

The Spanish flu of 1918, which killed about 50 million people worldwide, wasn’t highly pathogenic in birds, he said. He and colleagues plan to test the new virus in ferrets to see how deadly and how easily transmissible it is, and to test vaccines and antiviral drugs against it.

H7N9 also is more difficult to track because it’s not highly lethal to birds, said Alex Thiermann, technical adviser to the director general of the World Organisation for Animal Health in Paris.

“That indicates we need to take very careful surveillance measures because it will not be as obvious as in 2001,” Thiermann said in a telephone interview yesterday. “Symptoms are not going to help us. The Chinese are doing an intensive surveillance on poultry, pigs and wildlife. We need to continue to do that intensively.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Simeon Bennett in Geneva at

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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