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Experts warn of bird flu virus risk


A deadly bird flu virus sweeping through China has taken the first steps towards becoming a global threat to human populations, experts have revealed.

In the space of one month, the avian strain known as H7N9 has spread through all 31 Chinese provinces and claimed 125 victims, killing a fifth of those infected.

Scientists say it is mutating rapidly and already has two of five genetic changes believed to be necessary for human-to-human transmission.

Currently the virus has made its home in chickens, and only affected people who have had close contact with the birds, often at live markets.

If it were to become fully adapted to human hosts it could result in a serious worldwide pandemic claiming millions of lives.

The 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic - the worst flu pandemic in modern history - killed up to 80 million people worldwide and is believed to have originated in birds.

Experts speaking in London said there was no room for complacency over H7N9, and warned against the folly of assuming it was a far-away foreign problem.

GPs have been sent letters advising them on how to identify cases and what action to take if one is suspected.

Research is ongoing into how the virus is behaving and what makes it so virulent.

The virus has infected people of all age groups, from two to 81, suggesting that humans have no natural immunity to it.

So far 20% of victims have died, 20% are recovering and the rest remain ill. In fatal cases, the virus has triggered sepsis - a massive inflammatory response - leading to multiple organ failure.

Leading British expert Professor Peter Openshaw, director of the Centre for Respiratory Infection at Imperial College London, said: “This is a very, very serious disease in those who have been infected. So if this were to become more widespread it would be an extraordinarily devastating outbreak.

“It’s very unusual to see more than 100 new cases in a very short time period. I think it’s definitely something we need to be concerned about.”

Scientists have learned lessons from the H5N1 bird flu strain which also emerged in China, and since 2003 has led to 628 confirmed cases in 15 countries and 374 deaths.

With a 60% mortality rate, H5N1 is even more deadly than the new strain. Luckily it has not yet shown any sign of making the jump to human-to-human transmission.

Although there is no reason to think that H7N9 will acquire this ability any time soon, it already displays some degree of human adaptation.

In H5N1, five key genetic changes were identified that scientists believe are needed for the virus to become a potential pandemic threat.

Laboratory studies have revealed two of these mutations in H7N9. One of them is integral to the “H7” part of its structure and enables the virus to latch onto certain receptor molecules in the human respiratory tract. It is seen even when the virus is confined to chickens.

The other has only been acquired after human infection and helps the virus to replicate inside cells.

How easy or difficult it might be for the other three changes to occur, and to what extent H7N9 needs the same mutations as H5N1 to pass between humans, is unknown.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • God help us if this does become human to human our hospitals will just not be able to cope.

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  • Without appearing to go OTT, this is the greatest threat to humanity and has the potential to kill several hundreds of millions and most probably ten-times all those killed in the two world wars.

    But in 2008 Nature Magazine published an article to defame and put into as a negative mind-set as they could, the World Innovation Foundation to stop the only strategy that had killed the avian flu in its tracks. This was because Professor Shortridge was giving his first world keynote conference address in Thailand that outlined the 'Source' Strategy that did not require tens of billions in drug sales. It was the 'preventative' strategy and based on the premise of ‘never letting it happen in the first place’, instead of trying to cure something when it had infected humans (the reactive strategy). For history has always shown that ‘prevention is better than cure’ so why is it that we have not taken this on-board with regard to stopping the most deadly killer of humans of all time? The answer is that the powerful drug companies and their research scientists in the Netherlands did not want Professor Shortridge's strategy to emerge, so they employed Nature magazine to do their dirty work; and which they did and killed off the only strategy that had worked in 1997 in Hong Kong.

    Indeed Nature Magazine was so precise with when they wanted to publish the damning article they did this on the very same day as the international conference was held in Thailand in January 2008 and the day before Professor Shortridge’s keynote speech. This was timed of course to do as much damage as they could and to stop such an alternative global strategy taking hold – even thought it had worked before (without the use of human drugs). The reason, the large pharmaceutical companies and their research scientists knew that if it was allowed to be implemented worldwide, it would stop the tens of billions in sales of their drugs (Tamiflu and their future drug equivalents against avian flu et al). Therefore these were very high stakes for the giant pharmaceutical industry and they wanted it dead in the ground.

    Indeed one cannot trust these monopolies and huge cartels that dictate to governments and not the other way around. For there are many of reasons for this that go back decades and where only in the last 4-years they have been fined for 'fraud' on a colossal scale and fines amounting to over $13 billion. Indeed Nature Magazine's holding company has its 'roots' in the Nazi era and where their founders were active Nazi members becoming extremely rich out of slave labour and Nazi propaganda printing. Therefore both Nature Magazine's owners and the giant pharmaceutical companies have a great deal in common - .

    Unfortunately it has to be said that Nature's owners have not learnt one lesson at all since the holocaust (apparently because of their worship of profit above human life itself) and where this time ten times more deaths will occur by them stopping the Shortridge 'Source' Strategy (the only one that has stopped the human-to-human killer virus in its tracks), than happened in both world wars put together.

    Since the Nature article the majority of WIF Fellows who were covertly interviewed by Nature Magazine have apologised when they found out the real purpose of the article. Indeed people like Ian Pearson, former chief futurologist at BT and inventor of text messaging, are still Fellows of our Foundation and where none of those cited have resigned their fellowships.

    It is about time therefore that governments around the world changed their thinking on how to stop the eventual killer pandemic and adopted the only thing that will stop the deaths of countless millions when it does happen. For statistics and recent history has shown that vaccines will 'always' come far too late due to the lead time needed for research isolation, vaccine discovery, government authorisation, mass manufacture and global distribution (a logistics nightmare in itself as most are manufactured in the USA). Are we therefore so stupid if we do not realise this in time, is the question? For no person from the president of the USA downwards or country is safe from this constant and statistically overdue event in the history of the world. Indeed, next time will be the greatest mass killer of all time by far and all of us will lose many loved ones.

    It is time therefore that the world woke up, used its intelligence, did not take the word of the giant parametrical industry (for its own sake), realised that our current thinking is absolutely and totally flawed.

    Dr David Hill
    Chief Executive
    World Innovation Foundation

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