Officials from the World Health Organization warn that the new H7N9 strain of the bird flu virus that has emerged over the last month in China is one of the deadliest flu viruses so far, due to its ability to jump more easily from birds to humans than the last strain, H5N1, that wreaked havoc in 2003.
Since this new H7N9 strain first broke out in China in late March, it has made 132 people seriously ill and killed 37. Most of these fatalities occurred around China's eastern coast, near Shanghai. On Wednesday, Taiwan confirmed its first case of the H7N9 strain, a 53-year-old man who fell ill after returning from a visit to the Chinese province of Kiangsu.
The World Health Organization has described H7N9 as "one of the most lethal influenza viruses".WHO officials are concerned about the H7N9 strain's ability to jump to humans from birds, as well as its capacity to infect birds without causing noticeable symptoms, which makes the task of monitoring its spread much more difficult. Expert scientists are monitoring the virus closely to see if it has the potential to spark a global epidemic, although many agree little evidence exists that it can spread easily between humans.
The outbreak has been curbed following China's closure of many of its live animal markets in response to expert scientists' theories that the virus was infecting people through exposure to live birds. Numbers of H7N9 cases have since stalled. Experts warn, however, that the virus's threat continues to persist, especially as the strain could return in force this winter, when flu viruses tend to be most active.
Scientists estimate the overall death rate to be at 36% after making adjustments for missing data, which actually makes H7N9 less deadly that H5N1, which kills around 65% of those it infects.Still, H7N9 remains more lethal than swine flu, which in 2009 caused a 2009 global epidemic, in spite of its death rate of less than 1%.