News Column

US Watching Bird Flu Outbreak in China

April 8, 2013

U.S. health officials are developing laboratory strains of China's new bird flu so they can make vaccines quickly if necessary.

The move is in response to a new bird flu that has emerged in China in the past two months. So far, it is confined to that nation.

Bird flu has killed six of the 21 people who have gotten it, a mortality rate that keeps public health officials up at night. The strain, H7N9, appears to be transmitted from poultry.

Last week, Chinese officials slaughtered more than 20,000 birds in a Shanghai poultry market to help stop the spread of the strain.

The United States has not issued any travel advisories for China, but for a decade, it has advised Americans going there to avoid contact with birds and other animals.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is on the case, CDC Director Thomas Frieden said.

"We work to have the public's back," he said. "It's our job to be concerned and to move quickly whenever there's a potential problem."

The public doesn't need to worry, Frieden said. "There's no evidence that the virus is being transmitted between people or that it's present in the United States," he said.

The H7N9 bird flu in China is of concern because it's a new strain that hasn't been seen in humans before, said Joseph Bresee, chief of the CDC's epidemiology and prevention branch, influenza division.

Compared with the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, China has improved how it responds to this kind of outbreak, said William Schaffner, an influenza expert who chairs Vanderbilt University's department of preventive medicine in Nashville.

"Ten years ago, China was very secretive, and the world's health community was frustrated," he said. "This time around, China is being very open and aggressive in dealing with the outbreak."

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2013

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