New Bird Flu No Immediate Threat: U.S. Experts
There's been no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission in Chinese outbreak
The current outbreak is reminiscent of the outbreak of H5N1 avian flu in 2003, another bird flu that has killed about 370 people since then, according to the World Health Organization. That outbreak raised fears about a pandemic that never materialized.
There are also differences between the two viruses. Unlike H5N1, H7N9 doesn't seem to cause illness in birds, making it harder to detect and track. But, it's not unusual for flu viruses to not cause symptoms in their bird reservoirs, said Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
But he also added a bit of good news: H7N9 is treatable with currently available antiviral medications.
According to The New York Times, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has started work on what's known as a "seed vaccine" for the virus as a precaution. That vaccine will take at least a month to prepare.
And the Associated Press reported Monday that Chinese health authorities are also at work on a vaccine against H7N9.
"If there was human-to-human transmission, that would be worrisome," said Horovitz. "[But] even then, we don't know how aggressive or fatal it would be."
Although two of the people who were sickened by the virus had had contact with one another, right now it only "smells like the possibility" of human-to-human transmission, Webby added.
"On the whole, it doesn't look like there's any strong evidence that this thing is really running around rampant," he said.
There's more on H7N9 avian flu at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.