Outbreak of a novel influenza virus is usually triggered by mutational change due to the process known as 'antigenic shift' or re-assortment process that allows animal-to-human or avian-to-human transmission. Birds are a natural reservoir for the influenza virus, and subtypes H5, H7, and H9 have all caused outbreaks of avian influenza in human populations. An especially notorious strain is the HPAI influenza virus H5N1, which has a mortality rate of approximately 60% and which has resulted in numerous hospitalizations, deaths, and significant economic loss. In March 2013, in Eastern China, there was an outbreak of the novel H7N9 influenza virus, which although less pathogenic in avian species, resulted in 131 confirmed cases and 36 deaths in humans over a two-month span. The rapid outbreak of this virus caused global concern but resulted in international cooperation to control the outbreak. Furthermore, cooperation led to valuable research-sharing including genome sequencing of the virus, the development of rapid and specific diagnosis, specimen sharing for future studies, and vaccine development. Although a H7N9 pandemic in the human population is possible due to its rapid transmissibility and extensive surveillance, the closure of the live-bird market will help mitigate the possibility of another H7N9 outbreak. In addition, further research into the source of the outbreak, pathogenicity of the virus, and the development of specific and sensitive detection assays will be essential for controlling and preparing for future H7N9 outbreaks.
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