Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey

H7N9: Bird Flu - What to expect?

The H7N9 Influenza outbreak in the People's Republic of China has been classified by the European Centres of Disease Control as a "significant long-term threat". The World Health Organization has asked for "vigilance". Once again, are we to sit back and watch a potentially disastrous virus spin out of control?

Remember the Swine Flu outbreak, or Influenza A H1N1 in 2009? Remember the response from the World Health Organization? To remind our readers, no quarantine was imposed, no travel restrictions, just "vigilance" while the WHO informed us about the stages the pandemic was passing through until it became a pandemic. The pharmaceutical companies meanwhile rubbed their hands in glee as vaccines were sold, to the tune of millions upon millions of dollars and the more widespread the pandemic became, the more vaccines they sold, and thereafter medicines to reduce the symptoms of the virus once caught.

Now in the People's Republic of China we are witnessing a highly pathogenic strain of Bird Flu (the same type of flu which killed between 50 and 100 million people after the First World War - Spanish flu), namely H7N9. Known as a strain which affected poultry, the virus appeared in early 2013 in the People's Republic of China and disappeared during the summer, reappearing again as the weather became cooler in the Autumn and winter.

To date H7N9 has produced some 220 cases and 55 deaths, rendering the vast majority of victims in critical condition and the death rate indicates some 25 per cent of cases - a quarter of all those infected have died, placing this strain on a level with the Black Death (Bubonic plague) in medieval times.

While the WHO is claiming that there has been no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission, and while the majority of cases are among humans with a history of exposure to poultry (in poultry markets or breeding poultry at home), it is also true that some cases are among those who have no history of exposure to poultry.

With the Chinese New Year looming at the end of January, and with the World Health Organization once again sitting back and watching, like some perverted voyeur, let us wait and see what happens. Obviously, yet again, there is nothing anyone can do about it, because if our health authorities relegate themselves to vigilance and inaction, all we can do is sit back and wait, to become infected with a deadly virus, or not. And if not, what about next time?

One thing the scientific community agrees upon: it will happen, a deadly strain of the Influenza virus will mutate and will create a deadly pandemic. It is not a question of if, but when. If the World Health Organization were more proactive, then there would not be so much to worry about.

It is almost as if the pharmaceutical lobby is asking for a pandemic to spread across the world, so that the pharma companies can make billions out of selling their "products" (as they name them). Surely that could never happen? Or could it?

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey