Upper Hutt scientists monitoring for new strain of bird flu – six deaths in China

Press Release – WHO National Influenza Centre
ESR Scientists at the World Health Organisation National Influenza Centre (WHO NIC) in Upper Hutt are able to test for the new A(H7N9) strain of influenza virus, which has been identified in China.

ESR runs the WHO NIC at the purpose built National Centre for Biosecurity and Infectious Disease (NCBID) in Upper Hutt, which was the nerve centre for the 2009 response to the ‘swine flu’ pandemic, monitoring the spread of the virus and working across the health system to plan New Zealand’s response.

The latest WHO update on A(H7N9) issued on Sunday states that to date, a total of 21 cases have been laboratory confirmed with influenza A(H7N9) virus in China, including six deaths, 12 severe cases and three mild cases. The latest WHO FAQ on A(H7N9) is available here.

Dr Sue Huang is a virologist and Director of the WHO NIC. Dr Huang also heads up the international SHIVERS study currently underway in New Zealand to comprehensively investigate influenza. She says there is no sign of this new strain in New Zealand. “Being part of the WHO network, we are in contact with our international colleagues to learn more about this new strain as well as providing precautionary monitoring for any sign of the virus here.”

“As a precaution this laboratory will be investigating samples from any patients with Severe Acute Respiratory Infection that are positive for certain strands of influenza A. WHO is working swiftly to provide laboratories like ours around the world with appropriate diagnostic assays to assist in the identification of and response to this strain.”

“New Zealand has a very comprehensive surveillance system to monitor the influenza virus. Following the work around the 2009 pandemic, this country also has a very robust response plan in place for any such event in the future.”

Dr Huang said: “Until recently the A(H7N9) virus was not known to infect humans. Influenza A H7 viruses are a group of influenza viruses that normally circulate among birds. Whenever new strains occur around the world, our job here is to work with our international colleagues to study the new virus, so that we can best protect against its spread and care for those who do contract it.”

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