The bird flu virus has caused panic in the recent
years, with deaths reported due to the viral infection. A recent paper
published in the New England Journal of
Medicine reported a novel variant of
the virus, that is, H7N9 variant, which caused severe lower respiratory tract
infection and even death.
Avian flu or bird flu may manifest with a wide range
of symptoms, which may be mild like conjunctivitis and upper respiratory tract
infection or severe like pneumonia or multiorgan failure. Mild infection may be
self-limiting and may not be diagnosed in many cases. Serious infection, on the
other hand, often causes death.
Researchers in China reported three cases of bird
flu caused by a new variant of the virus, which was noted as H7N9. These
patients were hospitalized for severe pneumonia with low white blood cell
counts (white blood cells help to fight infection)
. The most predominant
symptoms were fever with cough. Radiographic tests showed the presence of
pneumonia in both the lungs.
One patient did not give any history of exposure to
live birds before the illness. The other two had a prior history of hepatitis
and were possibly exposed to live birds leading to the
The presence of the virus was detected from throat
swab samples of the patients. The RT-PCR test and full genome sequencing
the presence of the new bird flu virus variant in these patients.
All patients were administered combination of antibiotics,
glucocorticoids and immunoglobulins. They were given antiviral treatment
beginning 6 to 7 days after the start of symptoms. Unfortunately, all three
patients could not recover and died from complications.
Current figures following the above publication have
attributed around 14 deaths to the virus in China with 60 people affected with
Though close contacts of these patients did not suffer from the same
infection, person-to-person spread of this virus cannot be entirely ruled out.
Also, it is currently not known if any of the currently available influenza
vaccines may be effective against this variant. It is, therefore, necessary to find
methods to control the spread of this deadly virus as soon as possible. China
has already started the process of developing a vaccine for the H7N9 virus
though it will take some time before the vaccine is available for the general
Human Infection with a Novel Avian-Origin Influenza A (H7N9) Virus;
Rongbao et al; NEJM April 2013.