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What to Know About the New Avian Flu Outbreak

It’s hard to know what to think about this new bird flu. In one respect, this new strain, H7N9, is deeply concerning since it has never been seen before. On the other, these types of things tend to never be covered properly in the mainstream media so the constant, panicked, hype-fueled reaction does little good in terms of helping people prepare for a potentially serious public health emergency.

Fortunately, Wired is here.

In a great primer, they delve into all the relevant information that any organization should know.

By now you’ve no doubt heard that international health authorities are deeply concerned about a new flu strain that has surfaced in China: H7N9, which so far has sickened at least 16 people and killed six of them. The outbreak has a number of features that are troubling. It emerged rapidly; the first cases were announced five days ago, and the first death apparently occurred on Feb. 27. It is widely distributed: Confirmed cases have been found in three adjoining provinces that wrap around Shanghai, and also in Shanghai municipality itself. And it is novel: H7N9 has never been recorded in humans before.

For infectious-disease geeks, it’s that last aspect that raises a particular nervous thrill. Most of the time, most people take flu for granted, to the point of not bothering to be vaccinated against it because they assume it will not make them very sick. But every once in a while, flu defies expectations, and roars up into a pandemic: worldwide spread, high numbers of cases, high rates of death. When a pandemic occurs, almost definitionally, it is because of a new strain to which humans have no prior immunity. In human terms, H7N9 is a new strain.

This is all made more confusing because it is happening in China, an infinitely complex place with an ambivalent and contradictory attitude toward transparency. Public health has never quite recovered from the realization, 10 years ago, that the Chinese government had attempted to conceal the beginning of the SARS epidemic, which was exposed — and transmitted to the world — because a doctor from a town in southern China traveled (some say fled) to Hong Kong to attend a family wedding (some say to seek treatment he could not have gotten at home).

In the years since, some parts of Chinese public health have seemed to open up enormously: The government has threatened sellers of spoiled and counterfeit food with prosecution, and researchers have been allowed to investigate the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria around the country’s new mega-farms. And yet, just before this new outbreak broke open, China was being challenged for not giving clear answers to why thousands of dead pigs were showing up in its rivers.

This is just the beginning.

Head over and read the rest to get the best take I’ve seen thus far on the largest health threat, both to individuals and business continuity, that the globe has seen in several years.Wired also offers a great list of resources to follow as this potential crisis continues to evolve. Worth bookmarking.

Risk Management Magazine and Risk Management Monitor. Copyright 2023 Risk and Insurance Management Society, Inc. All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume III, Number 105
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About this Author

Senior Editor

Jared Wade is the senior editor of Risk Management magazine and the Risk Management Monitor blog.

212-655-5919
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