Bird Flu Threat ‘Increasing’: Symptom-Free Case Of H7N9 In China; What Does It Mean?

By Philip Ross on April 15, 2013 11:26 AM EDT

bird flu threat increasing symptom free case
A 7-year-old girl infected with the new H7N9 bird flu strain lies in quarantine at Ditan Hospital in Beijing. The girl is reportedly connected to the new symptom-free case of bird flu found in a 4-year-old boy. (Photo: Reuters)

Health officials in China say the threat of a bird flu pandemic is "increasing" after one case of infection from the virus showed no symptoms.

Bloomberg reports that a 4-year-old boy in Beijing who caught the H7N9 avian influenza virus, which is transmitted to humans through infected poultry, exhibited no indications that he had the infection. The young boy was reportedly connected to the 7-year-old Beijing girl who became the first case of the new bird flu in China's capital. The boy's infection was detected when authorities carried out contact tracing - the process of testing close relatives and friends who were exposed to someone with the virus - in order to test 24 people who came in contact with the 7-year-old girl in Beijing, according to Bloomberg.

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An Under-Recorded Pandemic

News of the boy who showed no symptoms comes after scientists said the new strain of bird flu virus is a mutated version of the avian influenza virus, which was thought to affect only birds. Investigators are worried that the new strain, which has adapted to thrive in human hosts, could become a pandemic, spreading beyond the borders of China.

So far, 14 people in China have died, including one earlier today.

According to Bloomberg, almost all of the 64 cases of reported bird flu infection have shown extremely adverse symptoms, including multi-organ failure, muscle breakdown and even brain damage.

The boy's symptom-free case could mean that the new bird flu virus is lying dormant in its hosts, and that more people than have been reported are catching the new strain of the deadly bird flu virus.

'Increasing' Threat Of Pandemic

Yin Weidong , Chief Executive Officer of Sinovac Biotech Ltd., said in an interview at the company's headquarters in Beijing that the risk of the new H7N9 bird flu virus becoming a pandemic is "increasing." The company, which Bloomberg reports was the first to receive regulatory approval for a 2009 swine flu shot, is gearing up to produce an immunization against the new avian influenza virus.

While there's no sign yet that the virus is spreading among people, this onslaught of bird flu cases in China increases the prospect of the H7N9 strain escalating into a pandemic.

According to WebMD, people get the bird flu through close contact with birds. It is believed that some people catch the virus from cleaning or plucking infected poultry.

"In China, there have been reports of infection via inhalation of aerosolized materials in live bird markets," WebMD reports. "It's also possible that some people were infected after swimming or bathing in water contaminated with the droppings of infected birds. And some infections have occurred in people who handle fighting cocks."

Read more from iScience Times:

Bird Flu Mutating: Are We On The Brink Of A Deadly Pandemic?

Bird Flu Kills Two In China: Scientists Race To Understand H7N9 Virus [VIDEO]

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