The H7N9 virus has killed two more people in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, bringing the death toll to 20 and the number of confirmed cases to 102, according to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency. The latest victims were a 76-year-old farmer and a 62-year-old woman. The woman died on Saturday, six days after being diagnosed with the disease on April 14. The farmer, who showed flu symptoms on April 8, died on Sunday morning.
The H7N9 outbreak is concentrated in eastern China. The first case was identified in March in Shanghai, where a total of 33 confirmed cases, including 11 deaths, were reported by Sunday. Zhejiang province is one of the hardest-hit areas, with 38 reported cases, including five ending in death. The flu has spread to Beijing as well: a 7-year-old girl whose parents are both in the poultry trade was diagnosed on April 13. The new strain was also found in a 4-year-old Beijing boy who showed no symptom.
Gabriel Leung, director of the University of Hong Kong’s Public Health Research Centre, told the South China Morning Post that there might be another 100 undetected human H7N9 cases because the symptoms are mild. Other experts are starting to suspect human-to-human transmission of the virus. About 40% of those tested positive for the influenza have no history of contact with poultry, noted the International Business Times.
According to U.S.News.com, one boy in Shanghai may have caught the flu from his brother. Feng Zijian, an official at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the South China Morning Post that long-term and unprotected exposure to an infected person might result in an infection, but this didn’t suggest that the virus had mutated into a strain that can spread from person to person. Glenn Thomas, a spokesperson of the World Health Organization, told U.S.News.com that a team of WHO experts was looking into this possibility, but he said there was no evidence confirming this yet.
Xinhua has been assuring people that the cases are “isolated” and a bird-flu pandemic is “unlikely.” Shanghai and other major cities have closed their live-poultry markets. But Zhong Nanshan, director of Guangzhou’s Institute of Respiratory Diseases who is renowned for his treatment of SARS patients during the 2002–03 outbreak that killed hundreds of people, warns that the virus might be adapting. “SARS was not as transmittable in its early stages, but it evolved and got stronger,” he told Xinhua.