China Bird Flu: Will It Reach Epidemic Levels?


On Friday, the World Health organization announced that 11 of the 43 individuals infected with the influenza A(H7N9) virus in China have died. The influenza A(H7N9) virus is one subgroup among the larger group of influenza H7 viruses, which normally circulate among birds, and is colloquially referred to as the bird flu.

The severity of the illness and the possibility of death has scared the Chinese population. Furthermore, the source of the illness in humans remains unknown. Poultry markets have become the focus of the investigation by China's health ministry and the WHO. The virus has been known to affect pigeons, but was only discovered in humans in China last week. On Wednesday, some scientists theorized that the virus may have came from migratory birds from East Asia that mixed with domestic fowl in China's Yangtze River delta region.

Chinese officials, including Hong Kong's Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, have taken the appropriate precautions to test the country's poultry supply. In fact, authorities are considering a permanent ban on the trading of live poultry. As a result, the outbreak has already taken a toll on the economy. In some areas, the price of poultry has fallen by 50%.

Despite the severity of the illness and the ambiguity of its origin, little evidence suggests that the bird flu will become a serious epidemic in China. First, the virus has primarily affected older individuals whose bodies are generally more susceptible to illness. Of the most recent five cases, ages ranged from 53 to 86.

Second, according to the WHO, more than a thousand of the close contacts of the confirmed cases are being observed. So far, there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission. For this reason, rapid spread of the virus seems unlikely. Nevertheless, the WHO and Chinese officials are keeping a careful eye on the situation. 

Thus far, it appears that authorities have the means to tame the outbreak of the infamous bird flu; however, the Chinese economy will undoubtedly suffer as a result. 

More information is available on the World Health Organization's website.