UN health agency concerned about H7N9 outbreak in China

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Avian influenza (WHO@PHOTO)

The outbreak of a new bird flu which has reportedly killed 36 people in China is causing concern at the World Health Organization (WHO).

That's what the head of WHO, Dr. Margaret Chan, said at a side event on the H7N9 flu virus held on Tuesday during the World Health Assembly taking place in Geneva.

She said any new influenza that infects people has the potential to become a health threat to the world and it is especially true for a virus like H7N9 that causes severe disease to humans.

Dr. Chan described H7N9 as a puzzling virus surrounded by mysteries.

"Most viruses of the H7 sub-type cause severe disease in poultry but only mild disease in humans. H7N9 does the oppose. At present, infected birds show no symptoms and appear perfectly healthy and this hides the source of infection and it takes away the early warning signal which is so important for health authorities to take appropriate action. And this characteristic of the virus makes targeted surveillance for human cases extremely difficult." (31")

Dr. Margaret Chan said this characteristic of the H7N9 flu virus makes targeted surveillance for human cases extremely difficult.

She added that there are many unanswered questions including why elderly men are disproportionately affected by the virus.

Dr. Chan also thanked Chinese authorities and scientists for the wealth of data they have quickly collected and for collaborating very closely with WHO.

Donn Bobb, United Nations.

Duration: 1'30"

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