Influenza Is For the Birds

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By Dr. Rhonda Schwartz, Director of Operations and Administration

This summer, I’m planning a trip to France with my children. However, just between you, me, and this blog, I could happily settle for pitching a tent, lighting a Coleman lantern, and mummifying myself in a sleeping bag in the backyard of my new house. In my backyard I know that my entertainment will fall to watching the cicadas, but at least I will not be subjecting my family to the potential dangers of acquiring a lethal virus during our travels abroad.

Earlier in the year, a nasty strain of Norovirus struck the US at the peak of flu season; the Health Protection Agency has reported that the outbreak affected more than 1 million people. In addition, a new strain of Coronavirus related to SARS has killed 18 people in the Middle East and Europe. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think the end of the world was upon us! Reading all of these startling news articles, I can’t help but reach for the bottle of hand sanitizer stationed on my desk. My personal opinion is that the TSA should not only screen for weapons, but for infectious agents as well. In fact, I would be willing to pay a surcharge to know that everyone beyond the security checkpoint is safe…very safe! How could I potentially jeopardize my children’s health by letting them board an aircraft envenomed with germs, when I won’t even let them use Facebook or Instagram??

On top of all of this, a new strain of bird flu discovered earlier this year has infected 108 people in China. The strain, known as H7N9, has also killed 27 (according to CDC figures, Influenza kills about 20 percent of the people it infects). Most of the cases investigated have led medical officials and doctors to the conclusion that the virus is not transmitted from person to person – yet – and in all cases, has been passed from virus-contaminated poultry. However, possible virus mutations could launch outbreaks of H7N9 into pandemic numbers.

Chinese officials have found the virus in chickens, ducks, and pigeons, though there is no new evidence as to how the disease is transmitted by birds. The United States has joined China in an effort to research this new lethal virus.

The main problem facing scientists at this early stage of investigating is that the virus is not visible in poultry samples that tested positive for H7N9. Another series of tests on migratory birds revealed negative results for the virus, narrowing the main source of infection to poultry.

Scientists have already studied the genetic code of this new strain, and identified similarities with the more widely known bird flu H5N1.

Human infections with Avian Influenza A viruses can cause a wide range of serious illnesses from conjunctivitis to pneumonia and multi-organ failure.

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At ABI we strive to develop research methods that advance the medical community’s understanding of the worldwide viral threats that threaten human health. Visit our website and see our full catalog of standard products and custom services to find out how ABI can help you achieve your research goals. “Friend??? us on Facebook and participate in our Question of the Day: Where are you traveling this summer, and what precautions will you take to protect your safety and health?

Sometimes, especially after reading the news of these different virus outbreaks occurring all around the world, a few peaceful nights of backyard camping doesn’t sound so bad.