WHO Director General warns H7N9 could be next flu pandemic

Hong Kong newspaper The Standard reports that World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun has warned that the H7N9 strain of avian flu is particularly worrying as it could be a human flu pandemic strain.

“The biggest challenge for the world is the next influenza pandemic,” Chan said.

H7N9 is unique as it does not make poultry ill but it can be life-threatening for humans. Sick birds can generally provide early warning for imminent outbreaks, Chan told The Standard.

The H7N9 virus has been identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an “unusually dangerous virus” for humans, with a mortality rate of as high as 30 percent. Furthermore a pandemic outbreak is more likely in the winter season when avian flu tends to strike.

The warning comes as Macau reported its first human case of H7N9 infection.

The H7N9 victim, a 58-year-old stall owner at a wholesale poultry market in Macau who tested positive for the virus has not shown symptoms but has been quarantined along with his wife at Macau’s main hospital.

Macau has culled 10,000 live poultry and the wholesale market has been closed for sterilisation. A three-day ban was imposed on live poultry trade.

This followed the discovery of H7N9 in the batch of samples taken from imported chickens from mainland China. The Health Bureau of Macao said the stall owner handled the cages containing the infected chickens.

The Health Bureau said that the stall owner and his wife have not had close contact with other people, therefore the risk of mass epidemic is low.

There have already been a number of cases of human infection with the H7N9 flu strain in mainland China earlier in the year. These cases included one death.

There were 43 deaths from this flu strain in a previous outbreak in China in 2013. That outbreak was the first instance when this strain of the virus was transmitted between humans.