A second strain of bird flu virus, called H7N9, has now made the jump from birds to humans. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there have been 18 reported cases of human infection so far, all in China. Six people have died.

Like the other bird flu virus (H5N1), the H7N9 virus is not capable of being transmitted from human to humans.  But unlike H5N1, the new H7N9 virus is not very virulent in birds. That makes it more difficult to detect than H5N1 (which kills most infected birds), because birds infected with H7N9 may not even appear to be sick. In humans, however, six deaths out of 18 infections is pretty virulent!

Authorities in China are handling this new outbreak better than they did the original outbreak of H5N1. The Chinese authorities are informing Chinese citizens, working with health officials around the world, closing bird markets in infected areas and slaughtering birds when it is deemed advisable. 

The U.S. is monitoring the situation and is working on a vaccine. In the meantime, the virus seems to be treatable with Tamiflu.

By the way, have you ever wondered how flu viruses get their unique names of letters and numbers? All Type A influenza viruses have two types of proteins on their surface, called hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N). Each of these proteins comes in multiple forms (16 different forms of H and 9 different forms of N are known in birds). So every flu virus's name reflects its unique combination of H and N protein forms. That’s probably more than you wanted to know, but at least it will make their names less mystifying to you.

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