Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Big One? - By Laurie Garrett [Author of The Coming Plague]

The H7N9 flu now evolving before Humanity's eyes in China has killed 18 percent of the 108 people with lab-confirmed infections as of April 22.

That's a lethality about nine times the mortality rate of the Great Influenza of 1918-19, which claimed at least 50 million lives by lowball estimate, and up to 100 million based on extrapolation from colonial-era records in India and African countries. (There is no consensus regarding how many people perished in China in 1918.)

More worrying, only about 9 percent of the confirmed H7N9 cases in China have walked out of hospital, cured of their infections; one has been asymptomatic; and the remainder are still hospitalized, many suffering multiple organ failure and illnesses from which they are unlikely to recover.


In 1985, researchers showed that two key mutations in bird flu viruses occurring simultaneously could switch them to forms capable of spreading among mammals.

When H5N1 appeared in Hong Kong in 1997, local flu experts took some comfort in discovery that the virus had not made those mutational changes, so spread among people was unlikely.

And since that time the WHO has nervously monitored strains of the virus emerging worldwide, looking for evidence that these mutations had been made.

Thankfully, they have not.

But in 2012, two labs working independently -- one in the Netherlands, the other in the United States -- controversially deliberately made those mutations in H5N1 under controlled conditions, confirming that a bird virus with those gene switches could spread from one ferret to another, through the air coughed between them.

The H7N9 virus now circulating in China has those mutations.

As Ron Fouchier, the Dutch researcher who did the ferret experiment told me, "This virus really doesn't look like a bird virus anymore; it looks like a mammalian one."

[Lenghty article but it's a MUST READ.]