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Pandemic potential: Facts vs. fears regarding emerging viruses

Oklahoma public health workers — aware of our increasing global society — are keeping an eye on a bird flu virus known as H7N9. So far, it has been contained to China.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Modified: May 15, 2013 at 10:32 pm •  Published: May 16, 2013

Two new viruses found in the Eastern Hemisphere could cause a global pandemic — or not.

In an increasing global society, Oklahoma public health workers are keeping an eye on a bird flu virus known as H7N9. So far, it has been contained to China.

But like other flu viruses, it could pose a larger threat if the virus becomes transmittable from one human to another.

State epidemiologist Kristy Bradley said there's enough concern regarding H7N9 flu virus that the state Health Department has assembled a planning team to work out the details of how the state would respond to a pandemic.

“We're meeting every two weeks, sort of dusting off pandemic preparedness plans, and reviewing them and doing some updates and also looking again at our after-action report and improvement plan that was part of our processes as we went through the 2009 H1N1 pandemic,” Bradley said.

New coronavirus

Along with monitoring H7N9, Bradley and her team also are monitoring a new coronavirus that has emerged in the Middle East and Europe.

Coronaviruses are common viruses that most people get at some point in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They generally cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses.

However, the new coronavirus is different from any other coronavirus that has been previously found in people, according to the CDC.

As of May, 38 people in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates and France have been sickened by the new coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Twenty of those 38 people have died.

The new coronavirus is in the same family as SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which caused an outbreak in 2003 that sickened about 8,000 people.

Bradley said so far, coronavirus has been shown to be transmittable from limited person-to-person contact. For example, the virus spread from one hospitalized patient to another in France and caused a hospital outbreak in Saudi Arabia, she said.

“With the coronavirus, there's no readily available medication to treat cases or any immediate plans or capabilities to develop a vaccine,” Bradley said. “So, a little more serious if that one should expand and threaten more persons. At least with the H7N9 flu, we know that we have the antiviral medications that are used to treat regular seasonal flu.”

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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The potential is there, and you've got to be careful because if (the H7N9 virus) did take off, it would be very serious.”

Gillian Air,
University of Oklahoma professor of biochemistry and molecular biology

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