New bird flu poses “serious threat”, scientists say; “This is a very, very serious disease in those who have been infected. So if this were to become more widespread it would be an extraordinarily devastating outbreak”

New bird flu poses “serious threat”, scientists say

Wed, May 1 2013

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – A new strain of bird flu that is causing a deadly outbreak among people in China is a threat to world health and should be taken seriously, scientists said on Wednesday. The H7N9 strain has killed 24 people and infected more than 125, according to the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO), which has described it as “one of the most lethal” flu viruses. The high mortality rate, together with relatively large numbers of cases in a short period and the possibility it might acquire the ability to transmit between people, make H7N9 a pandemic risk, experts said. “The WHO considers this a serious threat,” said John McCauley, director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Influenza at Britain’s National Institute for Medical Research. Speaking at a briefing in London, experts in virology said initial studies suggest the virus has several worrisome characteristics, including two genetic mutations that make it more likely to eventually spread from person to person. “The longer the virus is unchecked in circulation, the higher the probability that this virus will start transmitting from person to person,” Colin Butte, an expert in avian viruses at Britain’s Pirbright Institute, said. Of the some 125 people infected with H7N9 so far, around 20 percent have died, approximately 20 percent have recovered and the remainder are still sick. The infection can lead to severe pneumonia, blood poisoning and organ failure. “This is a very, very serious disease in those who have been infected. So if this were to become more widespread it would be an extraordinarily devastating outbreak,” Peter Openshaw, director of the center for respiratory infection at Imperial College London, told the briefing.Scientists who have analyzed genetic sequence data from samples from three H7N9 victims say the strain is a so-called “triple reassortant” virus with a mixture of genes from three other flu strains found in birds in Asia.

Recent pandemic viruses, including the H1N1 “swine flu” of 2009/2010, have been mixtures of mammal and bird flu – hybrids that are likely to be milder because mammalian flu tends to make people less severely ill than bird flu.

Pure bird-flu strains, such as the new H7N9 strain and the H5N1 flu, which has killed about 371 of 622 the people it has infected since 2003, are generally more deadly for people.

Human cases of the H7N9 flu have been found in several new parts of China in recent days and have now been recorded in all of its provinces.

Last week a man in Taiwan became the first case of the flu outside mainland China, though he was infected while travelling there.

The H7N9 strain was unknown in humans until it was identified in sick people in China in March.

Scientists say it is jumping from birds – most probably chickens – to people, and there is no evidence yet of the virus passing from person to person.

Jeremy Farrar, a leading expert on infectious diseases and director of Oxford University’s research unit in Vietnam, said the age range of those infected so far stretched from toddlers to people in their late 80s – a range that appeared to confirm the virus is completely new to the human population.

“That suggests there truly is no immunity across all ages, and that as humans we have not seen this virus before,” he said.

“The response has to be calm and measured, but it cannot be taken lightly,” he said.

May 1, 2013 5:51 pm

Bird flu strain poses serious threat to world health, say medics

By Clive Cookson and Andrew Jack in London

The new H7N9 bird flu virus, which has infected 126 people in China and killed 24 over the past month, poses a “serious” threat to world health, virologists said on Wednesday.

“The World Health Organisation considers this to be a very unusual event,” said John McCauley, director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Influenza at the UK National Institute for Medical Research. “With a 20 per cent mortality rate it is serious but we don’t know whether it is going to spread from human to human.”

Genetic analysis shows that H7N9 has two of the five mutations believed to be required for a flu virus to spread easily through the air between people, said Wendy Barclay, professor of influenza virology at Imperial College London.

But intensive surveillance in China has not provided clear evidence of spread between people – everyone infected so far could have picked up the virus from domestic poultry or wild birds.

Diagnosis has proved difficult because the virus does not kill infected poultry, although detailed blood studies showing its absence in humans who have had contact with infected patients suggests it is not transmitting easily or to large numbers.

The biggest difference between H7N9 and H5N1 – the virulent avian flu strain that has infected 628 people and killed 374 over the past 10 years without transmission between humans – is its effect on birds. H5N1 has been easier to track because it causes severe disease in domestic poultry, while H7N9 has little or no effect on birds.

Jeremy Farrar, the flu expert who runs the Wellcome Trust Overseas Programme in Vietnam and takes over as head of the Wellcome Trust in October, said: “H7N9 has been found in birds in all 31 Chinese provinces . . . This has to be taken seriously but calmly.”

“What a difference it has been working with China on this, compared with Sars 10 years ago,” Prof Farrar added. “Their openness in sharing data and samples has been a huge tribute to them.”

Chinese researchers published on Wednesday in the Lancet the first comprehensive genetic analysis of the origins and evolutionary history of H7N9. This shows the complex way flu viruses rearrange themselves in birds and animals.

H7N9 probably evolved from at least four viral components in ducks and chickens – and has already split into two different lineages during the past few months, the Lancet paper says.

Human victims of H7N9 range in age from 2 to 89, though people affected tend to be primarily middle-aged and elderly men, in contrast to the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic that mainly affected younger people – suggesting that there is no existing immunity in the human population from previous exposure to similar flu viruses.

The symptoms are mainly respiratory though in severe cases the patient’s immune system can go into overdrive, causing death through septic shock.

H7N9 is sensitive to Roche’s Tamiflu, the most widely used anti-flu drug. But many patients have sought medical help too late for the medicine to work and the main weapon, if the virus starts circulating between people, is likely to be a new vaccine, which will have to be developed specifically against H7N9.

“The timeline from now to when we have a vaccine remains months rather than days or weeks,” said Prof Farrar. “The world has a certain flu vaccine capacity – and any decision to switch that over to making H7N9 vaccine would be an incredibly difficult one to make.”

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 (www.heroinnovator.com), 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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