There was a lot of alarming talk over the past two weeks about the new bird flu strain, H7N9, that’s hitting China; as of last Thursday, the total number of cases diagnosed in humans was 38 with 10 deaths, all in China.
How much do we need to worry about this flu strain becoming a global pandemic that eventually hits Boston?
Not much, say public health officials, because it doesn’t spread easily from person to person. Most people who have been infected contracted the virus after handling poultry. So far, there haven’t been any cases detected in the US, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there aren’t any precautions Americans should take at this point.
Many unknowns still remain about this new strain. “We still can’t predict whether it will have global significance,” said
Dr. Al DeMaria, an infectious disease specialist at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Global flu pandemics have occurred every 20 to 40 years over the previous century, but now health officials, armed with rapid genetic sequencing techniques, have gotten far better at identifying new strains almost immediately.
“We’re finding viruses that we didn’t look for before thanks to better diagnostic technologies,” DeMaria said. “But we don’t quite know the full significance of what we’re observing, so we need to monitor all these new strains closely.”