A preliminary analysis shows that H7N9 bird flu has not triggered an epidemic among poultry, according to a Tuesday report in the People's Daily that cited a veterinary expert.
Of the 738 samples collected from three live poultry markets in Shanghai, where the first known human deaths of the disease were reported, only 20 samples contained H7N9 virus, including 10 from chickens, three from pigeons and seven from environmental samples, the report said.
The government's chief veterinarian Yu Kangzhen was quoted as saying that it was the first time the Ministry of Agriculture had detected the virus in domestic animals.
The relationship between the virus detected in poultry and the virus that has infected humans has yet to be determined, Yu said.The Capitoline geese set up a racket when Rome's enemies slipped inside the walls, and Sherlock Holmes took note when the dog didn't bark in the night. So the current avian silence is instructive. While more H7N9 is being found in various sites, it sure doesn't look like some awful panzootic where the birds topple off their perches with the "aargh-plop!" of H5N1.
Instead it behaves like a good corporate citizen that lets its avian hosts get on with their lives while H7N9 quietly takes its cut. Even so, it doesn't seem to infect many of China's billions of birds.
Yet every once in a great while, H7N9 finds itself in a human body and tries to make the best of a bad situation, with terrible results for the human.
This reflects worse on us than on the virus. Its cousin H5N1 trained us to look for dead birds in the henhouse and battery; it just hadn't occurred to us that some other avian flu might pose a threat to us alone. Now we've got to figure out exactly how the virus gets to us, and how to prevent it from doing so any more.