China notified the World Health Organization (WHO) today of a new laboratory-confirmed case of H7N9 bird flu, the first new case of human infection since Aug. 11. A total of 136 confirmed cases of human H7N9 infection have been reported to date, including 45 deaths.

The National Health and Family Planning Commission of China reported the patient to be a 35-year-old man from Zhejiang Province who was admitted to a hospital on Oct. 8. The new patient is now in critical condition. The Commission also informed WHO that a previously confirmed H7N9 infected patient has died, leaving three patients still in hospital and 88 who have been discharged.

As described by WHO, H7N9 is one of a subgroup of influenza viruses that normally circulate among birds, and had not been seen in people until recently. Most patients have been severely ill, and in quite a few cases the disease has proven deadly. Most human cases presented first with pneumonia. WHO reported that there is still no evidence of sustainable human-to-human transmission, but both animal-to-human and human-to-human routes of transmission are being ‘actively investigated.’

In July of this year, Clinical Chemistry published the work of researchers from the University of Hong Kong who developed a diagnostic test able to detect the H7N9 influenza virus. The team designed a one-step diagnostic test with high specificity for the H7N9 virus that does not cross react with distantly-related viruses, including all previously known avian and mammalian H7 viruses. Significantly, the quantitative real-time PCR (polymerase chain reaction) assay enables specimen processing in about three hours.

If validated, this diagnostic test could help health officials avert a potential pandemic by allowing them to monitor the spread of the virus. The test could also identify H7N9 patients in the early stages of infection, improving their chances of responding to clinical treatments.

Meanwhile, in its notification to WHO, the Chinese government affirmed continued monitoring, prevention, and control measures while scientists continue to carry out research investigating the virus. As of this date, WHO is not making recommendations of either travel or trade restrictions.

Source: Wong CK, Zhu H, Li OT, et al. Molecular detection of human H7N9 influenza A virus causing outbreaks in China. Clinical Chemistry. 2013.