The Centre for Health Protection has issued a news release: CHP notified of three additional human cases of avian influenza A(H7N9) in Mainland. Excerpt and then a comment:
The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health (DH) yesterday (February 16) received notification of three additional human cases of avian influenza A(H7N9) respectively in Shenzhen (one case) from the Health and Family Planning Commission of Guangdong Province, and in Jiangsu and Anhui (one case each) from the National Health and Family Planning Commission.
The patient in Shenzhen is a man aged 44. The case in Jiangsu is a man aged 84 while the case in Anhui is a man aged 63. All of them are under treatment in hospital.
As of yesterday, a total of 347 human cases of avian influenza A(H7N9) have been confirmed in the Mainland, including Zhejiang (135 cases), Guangdong (69 cases), Shanghai (41 cases), Jiangsu (41 cases), Fujian (20 cases), Hunan (12 cases), Anhui (eight cases), Jiangxi (six cases), Beijing (four cases), Henan (four cases), Guangxi (three cases), Shandong (two cases), Guizhou (one case, imported from Zhejiang) and Hebei (one case).
While the total begins to look serious, we really have to bear in mind the size of the population experiencing this outbreak; just in the hot-zone provinces, it must be a couple of hundred million people, if not more. And all but 347 unlucky people seem to have escaped contracting H7N9 despite its widespread extent.
The extreme rarity of H7N9, like H5N1, is what makes it interesting. Until very recently, most of the avian influenzas had never been known to infect people. So it's surprising and potentially dangerous when they turn up in humans and actually kill a substantial fraction of those they infect.
When I see WHO's H7N9 updates extending to 10 or 15 cases, it looks a bit alarming, I grant you. But let's put it in proportion. According to Worldometers, on February 16, 2014, almost 25,000 people have died as of 7:30 p.m. PST ... of hunger.
Today, 19,969 children under age 5 have died of various awful and mostly preventable causes. Seven hundred and sixty-eight women died giving birth today, and over 2,000 people have died of malaria today.
Smoking-related deaths today are well over 11,000. No doubt far more Chinese died today from tobacco than have died from H7N9 and H5N1 combined since those viruses first emerged.
Yes, I pay more attention to avian flu than to lung cancer and malaria. So, unfortunately, does everyone else...if you define "everyone else" as affluent, educated, vaccinated individuals living in countries with excellent public health systems and drinkable tap water. For us, it's the implicit threat of some clever virus that holds our attention: we don't have a vaccine for this one, so we ourselves are as vulnerable as some kid in Cité Soleil or Asunción or Gorakhpur.
I suppose we can justify our interest by arguing that by studying these new diseases, we learn more about other diseases, and ourselves, as well. And that's a plausible argument.
Meanwhile, since I posted a few minutes ago that 768 mothers died in childbirth today, the number has risen to 775.