First detected in Shanghai in March 2013, H7N9 avian influenza has generated concern due to 30% fatality rate, person-to-person transmission within families, and rapid spread including recent introductions into Macau, Malaysia, and Taiwan, with a total of approximately 400 cases in the past year. This is particularly noteworthy since only 650 cases of another virulent strain of bird flu, H5N1, have been reported over the past 11 years.
Center for Tropical Research scientists have developed a risk model using H7N9 outbreaks in eastern China from March-May 2013 along with satellite and transportation data. Based on cases from the first half of 2013, the model correctly predicted the introduction of H7N9 into Guangxi autonomous region in southeastern China in January 2014, into Jilin province in northeastern China in February 2014, and into Macau in southeastern China in March 2014. Researchers believe that by forecasting viral spread up to six months in advance, this approach gives decision-makers enough time to implement control measures such as closing live bird markets, potentially blocking transmission into susceptible areas.
This project was supported by funds from the Fogarty Zoonotic Influenza Collaborative Network and carried out in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Chinese Center for Disease Control, and the Beijing Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology. The study findings were published March 17 in the Journal of Infection.