Quirks & Quarks

Stopping a pandemic before it starts

Scientists have pinpointed the genetic mutation that enabled the deadly H7N9 bird flu to spread to humans.
A screen showing a seven-year-old girl, was has been infected with the H7N9 strain of bird flu, receiving medical treatment in the Beijing Ditan Hospital in 2013 in Beijing, China. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Last week, the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization urged China to step up their efforts to contain the spread of the Avian influenza virus, H7N9. So far, this strain of bird flu has killed almost 500 people throughout China. We even saw two cases arrive here in Canada in 2015.

If you're unlucky enough to catch it, there's about a one in three chance you will die. The Avian flu has a 30 per cent mortality rate in people.

The World Health Organization, (W.H.O) has said this virus has the potential to become a pandemic — which means it could spread through the entire world.

Scientists from Hong Kong say they've finally figured out how the influenza strain was able to jump from birds to humans. Dr. Honglin Chen from the University of Hong Kong says, "For one virus to jump from avian to human, it involves multiple mechanisms and this is probably one of the important mechanisms because it gives the virus the initial ability to replicate."

Dr. Matt Gilmour, the Scientific Director General of the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, says the more genetic information we can get about this deadly influenza subtype, the better it'll help scientists in their battle to curb its spread.

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