Our docs at Kindercare Pediatrics have been getting lots of questions about the recent cases of influenza A (H7N9) infections in China.  Below is a short summary of what we know so far (in a Q&A format):

Where did this virus come from?

The virus seems to have originated from birds (pigeons and/or poultry) in Shanghai.  So far, there are 18 known cases of human infection in China. All of these human infections took place in or around Shanghai. Experts do not think that humans are spreading this flu to other humans.  Rather, it is more likely spreading via animal-to-human transmission.

Why is this being depicted as a “big deal” in the media?

Scientists and health organizations have expressed concern about this new virus because it appears to be quite deadly.  Of the 18 humans who have thus far contracted the disease, 6 have died and 4 are in critical condition.  Until we develop a better understanding about what’s going on, there will be an understandable level of concern and caution.

How concerned should people be?

For those living in or travelling to/from China, especially Shanghai and surrounding areas, it is important to take careful precautions to avoid contracting the illness.  See the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations here.

For all others (i.e. not travelling to or living in/near China), there is little, if any, precaution to take at this stage.  Since humans do not appear to be spreading this to other humans, the likelihood of a global outbreak is low.  WHO advised, on April 4th, 2013: “At this time there is no evidence of ongoing human-to-human transmission. WHO does not advise special screening at points of entry with regard to this event, nor does it recommend that any travel or trade restrictions be applied.”

Is there a vaccine for H7N9 influenza A virus? 

These are the first reports of this virus ever infecting humans, so there is not yet a vaccine available.  The vaccine development process, from virus identification to mass production, takes at least 6 months. So, if vaccination becomes advisable, it will not be until the end of the year that an immunization targeting this virus will be available for use.

What precautions are being taken at Kindercare Pediatrics?

At this time, we do not feel that our patients and families (assuming that they are not travelling to or from China) are at significant risk of catching H7N9 Influenza A. Patients and families should feel safe coming to clinic for well-baby care and sick visits.

On the other hand, if anyone (whether our patients/families or otherwise) has flu-like-symptoms AND recently traveled to China, it is important to go immediately to your local emergency department. The sooner the illness is identified and treated, the higher the chance of recovery/survival.

We will keep you updated with key information as this situation evolves.

Any questions or comments are welcome below.