Early Treatment of H7N9 Bird Flu May Be Effective, WHO Says

Michael O’Leary, the World Health Organization’s China representative, comments on H7N9 avian influenza. O’Leary spoke to reporters in Beijing today.

Henan province in central China today confirmed two cases of the virus, raising the number of people infected to 51. Beijing reported its first case yesterday -- a 7-year-old girl who is recovering in hospital.

On early treatment of infections:

“We feel that early treatment with proper anti-viral drugs can be an effective way to proceed, and we see that now perhaps with this girl in Beijing.

“She was under treatment early and in a stable condition, so early treatment is always important in these situations.

“We know also that the virus when untreated is very serious and many people are in critical situation and quite a number have died, so we advocate for early treatment and good medical care.”

On the source of H7N9:

“The source of infections remains under active investigation. There’s no way to predict how this will spread. We’re still looking intensively for the reservoir of infection but the suspicion remains in birds, chicken, ducks and poultry.

“The virus has been detected now in a few dozen chickens, pigeons and other birds. Migrant birds are certainly possible, that’s the agriculture side of the investigation. We know H7N9 has been found in wild birds before this ever started.

“The good news is we have no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission. That’s a key factor in this situation. As far as we know all the cases are individually infected in a sporadic and in a not connected way.

“It’s not unexpected to have a case in Beijing. We’ve been expecting new cases to occur and they’ve been occurring in new places.

“We can expect more cases.”

On the possibility of human-to-human transmission:

“What we need to do in each case is investigate very carefully. The difference for sustained human-to-human transmission is when the virus has changed in a way that allows that to happen and so far we have not seen that. It doesn’t mean that cannot be an individual case for that to happen where it might transmit from one person to another.

“But in cases where there might be two people in close proximity who both have the disease it’s also difficult to determine whether that’s because of human-to human, or because they were both exposed to the same source, for instance, chickens. That’s not so easy to sort out.”

On whether culling should be undertaken:

“If we can determine that the poultry are major sources of the infection to people then culling is one of the measures that can be undertaken. But this is a complex situation because the virus does not appear to be very lethal or even serious in animal populations so it’s more difficult to detect.”

On China’s disclosure of information:

“We’ve been getting excellent information in a timely way from the China government.”

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