By Maryn McKenna
Cast your mind back to about this time a year ago. A novel strain of flu, influenza A (H7N9),
had emerged in China, in the provinces around Shanghai. International
health authorities were deeply concerned, because any new strain of flu
bears careful watching — and also because, on the 10th anniversary of
the SARS epidemic, no one knew how candid China would be about its
By the time peak season for flu ended in China, there had been 132
cases and 37 deaths from that newest flu strain. But, confounding
expectations, the Chinese government was notably open about the new
disease’s occurrence, and scientists worldwide were able to ramp up to study it. Still, no one could say
whether that flu would be the one to make the always-feared leap to a
pandemic strain that might sweep the globe. As with other, earlier,
worrisome strains of flu, science could only wait and see whether it
And now it has.
The WHO does not add cases to its tally until they have been lab-confirmed and acknowledged by China’s Ministry of Health, so the totals it reports,
while thoroughly vetted, lag behind probable cases by days or weeks.
The most rapid, but not lab-confirmed, count is compiled by the
community of flu geeks collectively known as FluTrackers, and is
crowdsourced from translations of Chinese-language media. Their current tally stands at 336 cases since H7N9 first surfaced.