China on H7N9: no mutation in the virus, the way it spreads still remains poultry-to-human
China’s consistent reporting of H7N9 cases is to be applauded. The world is no doubt grateful.
There seems to be little doubt that if and when H7N9 bird flu becomes able to be transmitted from human-to-human, the world will know within a reasonable time frame of officials finding out, and therefore will be able to plan and act accordingly.
China is reliably reporting each new case, and each new death. This is essential to calm the world, since any attempt to hide these cases would be seen as an attempt to cover-up that China is facing the worst-case scenario of a pandemic. That is not the case, thank God.
But if and when sustained human-to-human transmission is confirmed, the world will know because of two reasons: the number and nature of the new H7N9 cases, and because the virus itself will have mutated to allow such human-to-human transmission.
And while the number of H7N9 cases in January 2014 has almost surpassed the total cases in 2013, the virus has not mutated to become transmittable by casual human-to-human contact. In other words, H7N9 does not have the physical mutations that it needs to undergo to be human-to-human transmittable.
And while H7N9 has transmitted from those in the same household with prolonged contact, the key second and third transmission has not occurred, as far as we know from official news reports. That type of transmission is one in which someone outside the household who was not in prolonged contact becomes infected, who then infects another. Once this chain of infection happens, it is a clear sign that the virus would have mutated to be able to create this chain of infection. Given the responsible manner that China has acted, thankfully, the world will know if and when it happens.
However, there may be a delay of the news reaching the public by what could be about ten to fourteen days, given the 12 days it took for this event to be reported: a six year old boy entering China from Hong Kong on Jan. 30 was diagnosed as having a fever and infected with H7N9.