A senior official at the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health agrees. The world has never seen an H7 influenza virus like this H7N9, says Alejandro Thiermann, who noted most previous H7 infections in humans have been mild, often only causing conjunctivitis, or pink eye.
“There are no clues to help us,” Thiermann says. “The only thing is this: Don’t take precautions just based on previous experiences because more likely this is going to be again uniquely different. I hope that it mutates and disappears and just becomes a sporadic low-pathogenic virus somewhere…. [But] we cannot lower the guard, because we cannot treat it like any other low-path [virus] due to the fact that it affects humans so aggressively.”
The one silver lining? Thanks to H5N1 and H1N1, researchers and public health officials investigating this new avian flu and planning contingency responses are well practiced. Says Fukuda: “We’re a lot more experienced. We’re just a lot better prepared—I think.”