Bird flu infects three in China

H7N9 influenza observed for the first time in humans

Three people in China have contracted a form of bird flu not seen before in humans, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports. The agency confirmed March 29 that two men in Shanghai have died of infection with H7N9 avian influenza, and a woman in Anhui province is critically ill with the virus.

Symptoms in all three patients included cough and fever and then progressed to severe pneumonia and difficulty breathing.

There are no known connections linking the people, and the virus has never been shown to transmit from person to person, a representative from the World Health Organization said. Chinese authorities and the WHO are investigating where the three people picked up the virus and trying to determine how it is transmitted.

The 35-year-old woman, whose symptoms started on March 15, had a history of contact with poultry, the WHO reports. An 87-year-old man in Shanghai fell ill on February 19 and died on March 4. A 27-year-old man who worked as a market pork vendor got sick February 27 and died March 10.

Two family members of one of the Shanghai men had severe pneumonia before the man got sick, and one of the family members died. Officials are still trying to determine if those family members may have also had the virus. So far, none of the 88 people who came in contact with the three ill people have been found to have the virus, the WHO reports.

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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