The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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April 5, 2013

CDC: Don't panic over bird flu outbreak

Six have died in China


A deadly outbreak of a new kind of bird flu has now sickened 16 people in China and killed six, but U.S. health officials on Friday cautioned that there’s no cause for widespread alarm.

The new influenza A H7N9 virus has not been seen before in humans, but it doesn’t appear to be transmitted easily among people, and there have been no cases detected in the United States, Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

“There are no specific steps people in this country can take. People can go about their daily lives,” he said.

Still, he said CDC officials are in close contact with Chinese authorities as they track the spread of the novel virus, which has been found in people from four Chinese provinces.

Victims have included 15 adults and a 4-year-old child, all of whom appeared to have clear ties to live poultry markets. They all became ill between Feb. 19 and March 31. Two of the 16 had other people in their families fall ill, but whether it was related is still being assessed. 

“At this point, there are several things that give us confidence that this is not spreading widely from person to person,” Frieden said.

For example, Chinese authorities have tracked 100 close contacts of people who got sick, and none of them became ill. With typical influenza, perhaps 20 percent to 30 percent of family members could be expected to develop the flu.

CDC is working with vaccine manufacturers to develop a seed strain to produce a vaccine to protect against the H7N9 virus, but that would only occur if there appeared to be widespread transmission. If that were necessary, it would not disrupt production of the seasonal vaccine, CDC officials said.

The agency issued a health alert for U.S. clinicians urging them to be alert for recent travelers from China who could show signs of the novel flu. CDC is also developing a diagnostic test that could quickly detect the virus.

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