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Should We Be Worried About the Bird Flu Outbreak?

There is a good chance that the world isn't going to end.


The H7N9 bird flu infection has killed a reported 22 people in China so far, and now it's been detected off the mainland. A 53-year-old man in Taiwan tested positive for the flu after returning home from a business trip to China. He is currently quarantined and in serious condition.

More from Bloomberg:

Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control said in a statement that the infected male “had not been exposed to birds and poultry during his stay in Suzhou and had not consumed undercooked poultry or eggs.” He developed his illness three days after returning to Taiwan and came in contact with at least 139 people including 110 hospital workers, according to the CDC.

Authorities are monitoring three medical staff who have exhibited symptoms of upper respiratory infection after coming in contact with the patient wearing protective gear, it said. Three others came in contact without wearing protective gear, have shown no symptoms, and are also being monitored.

 In respect to human-to-human transmission, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” said Ian Mackay, an associate professor of clinical virology at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, in an email late yesterday.

The World Health Organization has called it "an unusually dangerous virus for humans," but there's still no evidence of human-to-human transmission yet, only from birds. So beyond being worried for reasons like "I am always worried when groups of people are dying from anything," how worried should we—us Americans, over here in North America—be about the bird flu spreading off of mainland China?

"It is likely to keep spreading among birds and, as a result, cases of bird-to-human transmission are likely to continue/spread," Arthur Reingold, professor of epidemiology at the University of California-Berkeley, told us. "As best anyone can prognosticate, it is unlikely to evolve to a strain that can be readily transmissible between people, which is what is required for a human pandemic to occur."

OK, so ... is the world going to end or not?

"Best guess, there will not be an Earth-shattering catastrophe," Reingold says.