Julia Belluz · Saturday, March 04, 2017, 9:33 am
Bird flu is raging in China. Trump isn’t ready.
China is facing the biggest and deadliest outbreak of H7N9 bird flu in human history.
The virus causes pneumonia and death in most of its victims, which is why it tops the list of global flu pandemic threats.
As we learned from the World Health Organization this week, 460 human cases of the virus have been confirmed in China since last October — the most of any flu season since H7N9 was first reported in humans in 2013.
Forty percent of those confirmed to have the virus have died — including at least 87 people this year alone. That high mortality rate is part of the reason the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers H7N9 the “most concerning” of the flu viruses it tracks, Dr. Tim Uyeki, a medical epidemiologist at CDC, told me.
Right now, the bird flu outbreak is centered around poultry markets in China, and the people most at risk are poultry workers there. Almost all of the current infections were caught directly from birds and there’s no evidence yet of ongoing human-to-human transmission.
But Uyeki says it wouldn’t take much for the virus to mutate into a more transmissible strain or for it to spread to other countries.
For now, the risk of H7N9 reaching the US is low. Still, the chances of the US being hit with some kind of pandemic in the next four years is high. (The US is already fighting Zika within its borders, where there’s been a 20-fold increase in Zika-related birth defects since the arrival of the virus here.) Based on what we’ve seen from President Donald Trump so far, the US seems poised to botch an outbreak response.
“America has long been unprepared for a dangerous pandemic,” Ron Klain, the former Ebola czar under President Obama, told Vox, “but the risks are especially high under President Trump.”
Let’s walk through the four reasons why.
1) Trump hasn’t named a CDC director and could cut 12 percent of its budget