U.S. Hospitals Told to Be on Lookout for H7N9 Bird Flu

U.S. hospitals are being urged to head off a spread of the new H7N9 avian influenza by looking out for people exhibiting flu-like symptoms who have traveled to China or had contact with someone who has the illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a conference call with health-care professionals yesterday to review procedures for treating bird-flu patients and controlling infections, Erin Burns, an agency spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. The Atlanta-based agency today issued interim guidance on the use of antiviral agents to treat H7N9 infections.

Issuing the guidance and holding the clinician calls “would be considered routine preparedness measures for an outbreak with pandemic potential,” Burns said.

China has recorded 92 human infections of the H7N9 strain of bird flu, with 17 of the cases fatal, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from national and provincial governments and the World Health Organization. The source of the infection hasn’t been identified and there is no evidence of person-to-person transmission, with many of the cases involving human contact with poultry, according to the CDC’s website.

There haven’t been any cases reported in the U.S. and sustained person-to-person spread is needed for a pandemic to occur. The H7N9 virus is novel and has the potential to cause a pandemic if it were to change and spread through human-to-human contact, CDC said.

No Vaccine

H7N9 viruses have been detected in poultry in the same area in China where human infections have occurred, according to the CDC. A vaccine for the strain isn’t available.

Clinicians should consider the possibility of the H7N9 virus infection in people with respiratory illness and an appropriate travel history or exposure, CDC said in a notice April 5. The agency issued guidance on the same day for how to test for the virus. On April 11, the CDC released interim infection control guidelines for U.S. health-care workers, Burns said.

Suspected cases should be reported to the CDC within 24 hours, the agency advised. Clinicians should request testing and a diagnosis from a state public health laboratory or CDC.

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