New strain of bird flu which has never been seen in humans before kills two people in China
- Victims were infected in Shanghai and were aged 87 and 27
- Third person is critically ill in hospital after contracting virus in nearby province
PUBLISHED: 06:12 EST, 31 March 2013 | UPDATED: 06:33 EST, 31 March 2013
Two people in China have died from a strain of the bird flu virus never previously passed to humans.
The victims, two men aged 87 and 27, became sick in Shanghai, one of the country’s largest cities, in late February and died earlier this month.
Another woman in nearby Anhui province also contracted the virus in March and is in a critical condition.
The strain of the bird flu virus found in all three people was identified as H7N9, which had not been transmitted to humans before, according the Chinese National Health and Family Planning Commission.
BIRD FLU: THE DISEASE THAT COULD KILL MILLIONS
The first birds were infected in 1996, while the disease spread to a humans for the first time in Hong Kong a year later.
It began to move throughout Asia before cases were later found in Europe
Experts have warned the high contagious disease is the world’s biggest pandemic threat and could kill between 5 million and 150 million people.
The disease is expected to continue mutating within birds but has largely been brought under control in Asia due to vaccination programmes.
Seventeen governments around the world are preparing vaccines to combat a pandemic.
The victims showed symptoms of fever and coughs that later developed into pneumonia.
It is still unclear they were infected.
The World Health Organization says it is ‘closely monitoring the situation’ in China, regional agency spokesman Timothy O’Leary said in Manila, Philippines, and said the latest strain was not contagious.
‘There is apparently no evidence of human-to-human transmission, and transmission of the virus appears to be inefficient, therefore the risk to public health would appear to be low,” O’Leary said.
While WHO is confident the latest strain will not easily spread – no symptoms have been reported in any people who had been in contact with the victims – the deaths will reignite fears over the disease.
The most common strain of bird flu, H5N1, found mainly in south east Asia, is highly contagious among birds and can spread to humans.
Tens of millions of birds have been culled to stop the spread, which has been brought under control by animal vaccination programmes.
The World Health Organisation says there have been 566 confirmed human cases of H5N1 since 2003 and 322 deaths.
Governments around the world are pumping millions of pounds into developing vaccines in the scenario of a pandemic.