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A New Variant of Bird Flu Virus Causes Serious Infection

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A New Variant of Bird Flu Virus Causes Serious Infection

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.

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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 B infection and were possibly exposed to live birds leading to the infection.
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The presence of the virus was detected from throat swab samples of the patients. The RT-PCR test and full genome sequencing confirmed 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 the virus.

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 public.

Reference :

Human Infection with a Novel Avian-Origin Influenza A (H7N9) Virus; Rongbao et al; NEJM April 2013.

Source: Medindia
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