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A Chinese family wears face masks near a specialized fever clinic inside the Ditan Hospital, where a Chinese girl is being treated for the H7N9 strain of bird flu, in Beijing Sunday, April 14, 2013. A World Health Organization official said Sunday that it wasn't surprising that a new strain of bird flu has spread to China's capital after sickening dozens in the eastern part of the country.

Andy Wong, Associated Press - Ap

Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General for Health Security and Environment of World Health Organization (WHO) answers a question during the press conference in Shanghai, China Monday, April 22, 2013. There's no evidence a new bird flu strain is spreading easily among people in China even though there may be sporadic cases of the virus spreading to people who have close contacts with patients, the World Health Organization said Friday. Fifteen global and Chinese health experts are on a mission in Beijing and Shanghai to learn more about the H7N9 bird flu virus that has killed 17 people and sickened 70 others, said Dr. Michael O'Leary, head of WHO's office in China.

Eugene Hoshiko, Associated Press - Ap

WHO: New flu passes more easily from bird to human

  • Article by: GILLIAN WONG
  • Associated Press
  • April 24, 2013 - 7:19 AM

BEIJING - A new strain of bird flu that emerged in China over the past month is one of the "most lethal" flu viruses so far, worrying health officials because it can jump more easily from birds to humans than the one that started killing people a decade ago, World Health Organization officials said Wednesday.

Scientists are watching the virus closely to see if it could spark a global pandemic but say there is little evidence so far that it can spread easily from human to human.

WHO's top influenza expert, Dr. Keiji Fukuda, told reporters at a briefing in Beijing that people seem to catch the H7N9 virus from birds more easily than the H5N1 strain that began ravaging poultry across Asia in 2003. The H5N1 strain has since killed 360 people worldwide, mostly after contact with infected fowl.

Health experts are concerned about H7N9's ability to jump to humans, and about the strain's capacity to infect birds without causing noticeable symptoms, which makes it difficult to monitor its spread.

"This is definitely one of the most lethal influenza viruses we have seen so far," Fukuda said. But he added that experts are still trying to understand the virus, and that there might be a large number of mild infections that are going undetected.

The H7N9 bird flu virus has infected more than 100 people in China, seriously sickening most of them and killing more than 20, mostly near the eastern coast around Shanghai. Taiwan on Wednesday confirmed its first case, a 53-year-old man who became sick after returning from a visit to the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu.

In comparison, the earlier bird flu strain, H5N1, is known to kill up to 60 of every 100 people it infects.

Wednesday's briefing came at the end of a weeklong joint investigation by WHO and Chinese authorities in Beijing and Shanghai.

Experts said they still aren't sure how people are getting infected but said evidence points to infections at live poultry markets, particularly through ducks and chickens. They said it was encouraging that reported infections appeared to slow down after the closure of live poultry markets in affected areas.

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