H7N9 bird flu is back in China. Since last October, more than 165 new human H7N9 cases have been reported, compared with 136 last spring. At least 115 cases (with 25 fatalities) have been confirmed this year.

While the mortality rate of H7N9 is not as high as that of H5N1, the total number of H7N9 cases identified in the past month equals the number of H5N1 cases reported in 2006 (the most active calendar year for H5N1).

In contrast to the systematic cover-up and inaction during the initial stage of the 2002–03 SARS outbreak, the Chinese government has handled the outbreak in a more transparent and decisive manner. It updates bird flu data on a regular basis. Live poultry trading was halted in many cities of Eastern China.

Central health authorities have dispatched expert teams to affected provinces to supervise local hospitals in diagnosing and treating H7N9 patients. Most confirmed human cases of H7N9 have been isolated. In so doing, China has benefited from an enhanced disease surveillance and reporting system and improved surge response capacity.

Note from the N2GF team: Harm Kiezebrink and Derk van Wijk joined the WHO SARS team end of 2003 to advise China’s Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Health on outbreak management of infectious animal diseases. Today, Harm is still advising the Chinese government on developing new strategies for culling & disposal of diseased animals.

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