Cases of bird flu in China have been keeping officials worldwide on edge for weeks as numbers of new patients steadily increased.
Now there has been a lull in the development of new infections, but health officials are stressing that this does not mean it’s time to let their guard down.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there have been no new confirmed cases of the H7N9 avian influenza since May 8. There have been four new deaths in this time period from previously reported cases.
The latest totals reported by WHO show the virus as infecting 131 patients and resulting in 36 deaths.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US said that the drop-off may be due in part to Chinese authorities taking action to close live bird markets.
The CDC also suggested that changing seasons may be playing a role in the avian influenza, much like in human seasonal influenza viruses.
“After watching H5N1 for more than a decade, it’s clear that activity in poultry – and resulting human infections – increase in the winter and decline in the summer,” reported the CDC. “It’s possible that the same will be true with H7N9 and that as H7N9 activity in poultry or other birds declines, so will the chances for human exposures and resulting human infections.”
However, the CDC warned that if this is the case, the H7N9 virus may start picking up speed and causing more infections again when the weather begins to cool.
According to WHO, authorities are still on alert in China and investigations, surveillance, prevention measures and the tracking of patients’ contacts are being practiced.
“Until the source of infection has been identified and controlled, it is expected that there will be further cases of human infection with the virus,” reported WHO.
For its part, the CDC reported that it is coordinating with partners both in the US and abroad to investigate a potential vaccine and be prepared in the case the virus begins to spread easily from human to human. The CDC has also alerted doctors to be on the lookout for potential H7N9 cases.
Despite the precaution, the CDC reported, “At this time, the risk of getting sick from H7N9 in the United States is low.” The organization is also not recommending any travel restrictions to China.
“However, travelers to China should practice hand hygiene, follow food safety practices (including eating only meats and poultry products, including eggs, that have been cooked thoroughly), and avoid contact with animals,” the CDC noted.