The H7N9 bird influenza virus that started making headlines in the United States back in April has not even come close to spreading widely enough to be considered a threat. It hasn't exactly gone away either.
At the time, after having covered hospitals' efforts to treat a fairly large number of infections of the flu during the 2012–2013 season, I wrote about my concerns regarding hospitals' readiness to handle a pandemic if the H7N9 flu spread quickly. Thankfully, the question turned out to be moot. Following infection control efforts, the number of infections of the virus has been limited to 135 people and 44 deaths, all in Asia, according to the World Health Organization.
But in recent days, some news has come out that's a little concerning, because it indicates that hospitals and physicians' offices are not out of the woods concerning H7N9. Chinese scientists reported that the H7N9 virus likely was able to spread, at least in some cases, from human to human, according to an article by the Associated Press posted on the Huffington Post. In most instances, the virus spread from birds to humans, but the daughter of a man who had been exposed to birds died from the virus and didn't have known contact with those birds. She did have contact with two black swans raised nearby, but she died from the nearly genetically identical flu as that of her father, indicating she didn't get it from the swans.
"In this cluster, the virus was able to transmit from person to person," wrote Xian Qi of the Jiangsu Province Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the lead author of the study. "The threat by H7N9 has by no means passed," the authors wrote.
And in a crazy twist, another set of scientists are working to create mutations of H7N9 that can be transmitted easily from human to human, so they can study how they work. They argue that would help them to develop drugs and vaccines to prevent pandemics.
That type of research has been opposed by security groups, such as the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, which tried to get such previous studies of the H5N1 virus censored, according to a Reuters article. The fear is that their methods will get into the wrong hands and be used as a bioweapon.
I'm all for science and vaccines, and I may have watched too many episodes of Homeland and the Americans, but I agree with the biosecurity folks on this matter. People can't be trusted to keep that information out of the wrong hands.