The avian flu virus: H7N9

Since the first reported case at on 31 March 2013, there has been 96 confirmed cases and 20 deaths attributed to Avian bird flu virus - H7N9.

The World Health  Organisation (WHO) said that the outbreak was unlikely to become pandemic and that there is no evidence of ongoing human-to-human transmission. The lack of evidence of ongoing human-to-human transmission suggests that the virus is undergoing "stuttering transmissions" in which a virus that normally circulates in an animal reservoir infects a person, but further human-to-human transmission does not occur.

However, Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO's assistant director-general for health security and environment, casts a sombre note in his assessment  at a Toronto interview that "I think we are genuinely in new territory here in which the situation of having something that is low path in birds (yet) appears to be so pathogenic in people... And then to have those genetic changes ... I simply don't know what that combination is going to lead to." "Almost everything you can imagine is possible. And then what's likely to happen are the things which you can't imagine". 

The irony is that so far the international community's only response for viruses originating from poultry such as SARS, mad cow and the swine flu (H1N1)  has been to perform mass-scale culling. H7N9, however, originated from pigeons which is not classified a poultry.

We believe that pandemic risk continues to keep us on our toes. The emergence of a large number of very large new cities in Asia alongside substandard infrastructure remains an ideal breeding ground for disease. Combined with a ready conveyor belt in the form of global mobility, the scene is set for impacts on general population which will outpace epidemiological experience so far. We keep our eyes on the look-out for new, airborne diseases. H7N9 is not 'it'.