September 13, 2013
A deadly form of "bird 'flu'", the H7N9 Avian Influenza A virus, was
detected in four provinces of eastern China, where it has infected 135
people, and 44 of the infected individuals have died in the course of
the past five months. These incidents are of particular importance,
since it is the first time that this subtype of the Avian Influenza A
virus has been verifiably transmitted from infected poultry to humans.
The public health risk remains low at present. No cases of poultry or
human infection from this novel H7N9 subtype have yet been reported
outside China. The virus is classified as "low pathogenic", which means
that the infected birds appear healthy although they carry the H7N9
virus and are thus a potential threat to human health.
"Bird Flu" is caused by a virus present among wild birds. Usually,
wild birds, resistant to the disease, carry and secrete the virus,
transmitting it to domesticated birds, such as chicken, duck, and
turkey, which are susceptible to infection and can become sick and die.
In the case of Avian Influenza H7N9, both nuclear and nuclear related
technologies play a critical role in detecting and analysing the virus.
Gerrit Viljoen, Head of the Animal Production and Health Section of the
Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture,
explained that "he most sensitive and cost effective pathogen detection
and characterization applications require radioisotopes. Nuclear and
nuclear related applications, together with the irradiation of harmful
pathogens, are essential tools in any diagnostic veterinary laboratory."
To help IAEA Member States respond effectively to the emergence of
this new avian influenza virus, Adama Diallo, Head of the Joint FAO-IAEA
Division's Animal Production and Health Laboratory said, "We develop,
evaluate, validate and disseminate guidelines, procedures and SOPs to
Member States and follow this with individual and group training. We are
conducting two training courses on the serological and molecular
detection of H7N9 in order to contribute to the early detection of this
virus and early reaction capabilities in Member States."