Scientists. They always try to make things sound so exotic with their Latin phrases and chemical formulas. Foreign and so far away. But here is something that even with their scientific phraseology is plain and simple. And deadly serious. H5N1. Not the latest, but right now a great threat.

On January 3, 2014, the first death in North America caused by Avian Influenza was reported in Canada. One death caused by an illness almost always caused by contact with diseased poultry. While tragic, not a big deal. Except that it is a big deal because this case exposes some flaws in the transmission theory.

This was a healthy young person. She spent some time in China, where the avian flu is prevalent, but had no contact with diseased or healthy poultry. So where did she pick up the bug? What’s even scarier is that she got sick and died within a week’s time. And presented none of the respiratory symptoms associated with influenza. In fact, the true cause of her death, the H5N1 virus, was not diagnosed until she was examined during her autopsy. A little late.

Her original diagnosis was encephalitis die to the fever, headache and malaise that she presented. Given this, how many others who have been diagnosed with encephalitis have actually had the H5N1 virus? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States only recommends testing for this virus in patients with respiratory symptoms!

Another disturbing thought- while human to human transmission seems to be rate, a 2011 study by Dutch scientists indicated that with as few as five mutations the H5N1 could become readily transmissible between humans. And each case is an opportunity for a mutation.

A relative of the H5N1, the newer H7N9, is making its rounds in China now. It’s more easily acquired by humans. Just go near a sick chicken and you could be infected. And also very lethal. Nearly one third of cases reported by the World Health Organization have resulted in death. And guess what? H7N9 has three of the five mutations needed for human transmission.

It’s still exotic, and far away, but it’s moving closer. And there must be a lot of unreported cases out there. In the next few posts we’ll be looking more at the flu, and these exotic versions of it.

This information was taken from an article posted by New Scientist written by Debora McKenzie on January 9, 2014. The title is Threatwatch: H5N1 death highlights global flu danger.