By Jon Cohen
Science – As many an influenza researcher has observed, the virus that they study is predictably unpredictable. But when a bird flu virus makes the jump to people, it’s easy to predict how humans will react: Pandemic jitters will reverberate around the world, media will scrutinize the actions of public officials, and investigators will begin racing to answer questions about the virus’s origins, spread, and potential threat.
The scenario unfolded again after China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission announced on 31 March that a bird flu virus, designated H7N9, had infected three humans, killing two of them. But so far, researchers are guardedly optimistic: There is no persuasive evidence that the virus spreads between people, an ability it would need to set off the next flu pandemic. On 9 April, as Science went to press, a steady trickle of Chinese government reports had confirmed 28 cases and eight deaths.
The Chinese government has won praise for aggressively pursuing this outbreak and openly discussing its findings (see sidebar, p. 130). Chinese officials have monitored the health of more than 600 close contacts of confirmed cases—the earliest of whom became ill in mid-February—and have not found infections. “So far, there’s no human-to-human transmission—that’s the good news,” says virologist Ab Osterhaus of Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. “If it would have been there, you would probably have seen it by now.” …..>>Continue Reading<<