Thursday, June 21, 2007

'Lesser' Bird Flu Strain Poses A Real Danger To People

The outbreak of the H7 strain of avian influenza in Wales may prove to be more dangerous, and impact harder on the health care resources of the UK, than originally thought.

While none of the four people hospitalised due to infection from H7 in Wales last month died, the infection and subsequent illness was serious enough to soak up medical resources already in short supply.

From Science Daily :

"When you have to hospitalize someone for respiratory illness in the U.K., where hospital beds are hard to allocate, then the person has a serious illness," said Jonathan Nguyen-Van-Tam, a senior lecturer at Public Health Laboratory Services in London.

"In this outbreak, we had four people who tested positive for H7 influenza strain, and three of them were hospitalized," he told United Press International. "One person was a candidate for intensive care before he finally came around.

"I think we need to reconsider the H7 strain on the basis of this outbreak," Nguyen-Van-Tam said in reporting how British authorities dealt with the disease encountered on small farms in Wales in the spring of this year.

...a lesser-known relative of the H5N1 virus may be emerging as an equally formidable threat, based on what health authorities encountered recently on a handful of tiny chicken farms in Wales and northern England.

Nguyen-Van-Tam said 23 people developed some form of influenza-like symptoms during the course of the (recent H7 virus in Northern England) investigation and cleanup. Fourteen of those individuals had secondary contact, but none showed immediate exposure to H7 virus.

Nguyen-Van-Tam said the investigation was even more difficult because the outbreaks occurred during the seasonal influenza outbreak, making it difficult to determine with sophisticated testing if the patients were infected by the seasonal bug or by avian flu.

"This was a challenging incident," Nguyen-Van-Tam said, "complicated in terms of time and space. No evidence of person-to-person transmission has been found, but serology tests are awaited."

What happens if someone infected with H7 is then exposed to H5N1? There is little research to be found online that explains the results of multiple infection by various strains of avian influenza.

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