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Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 11:38:12 AM CST

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Health officials remain vigilant during avian flu outbreak in China

by Amber Gulla
Apr 23, 2013

The National Health and Family Planning Commission in China Tuesday informed the World Health Organization that four more avian flu cases have been confirmed through laboratory testing. That brings the total number of cases to 108, of whom 22 have died.

“Right now, we’re not telling people to do anything different,” said Jamila Jones, public affairs specialist at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “If that should change, the CDC will inform people what precautions to take.”

Carl Caneva, assistant director of health at the Evanston Health Department, said personal hygiene and community cleaning is enough for the time being. He said, “We don’t have people handling close contact with birds.”

Paul Schreckenberger, director of microbiology and virology at Loyola University Chicago, sees less of a concern because of the difficulty of avian flu spreading from bird to person. “Generally speaking, bird flu cannot be spread [from birds] to humans,” he said. “The reason is because the virus has to attach to respiratory cells in the individual and the avian virus wont attach to our respiratory cells.”

However other flu viruses, such as swine flu, are able to spread from animals to humans, he said. “Swine flu virus can get attached to humans,” he said. “So the virus can go from humans to swine and back.”

One concern, he said, is if the virus were transmitted from birds to another animal capable of transmitting it to humans. “What happens is that the bird flu might attach to a pig and then mutate enough to develop receptors for humans, and there’s a concern that might happen.” Schreckenberger said this would be a viral mutation if this was to happen, but it is hard to know what’s going on.

Caneva said that if avian flu were to spread to the U.S., they would follow a similar course as in previous cases. “It would be very similar to the response we had with swine flu,” he said. In this case, vaccines were developed and given to local health departments, in which Caneva said 12,000-13,000 were administered. “With any kind of disease outbreak, we get the public health message of how to prevent it.”

More research is still being done and contacts are being watch of those who contracted the virus, according to Chinese authorities. “If it were to spread here, I would more accurately call this a pandemic,” said Jones. “We would be concerned if we saw human-to-human transmission.”