Beijing: International experts probing China`s deadly H7N9 bird flu virus said Wednesday it was "one of the most lethal influenza viruses" seen so far as Taiwan reported the first case outside the mainland. China has confirmed 108 cases and 22 deaths since the first infections were announced on March 31 and Taiwan Wednesday confirmed its first infection in a man who had recently returned from working in eastern China where most cases have been reported. "This is definitely one of the most lethal influenza viruses we have seen so far," said Keiji Fukuda, one of the leading flu experts for the World Health Organization, which has led a team on a week-long visit to China to study H7N9. Fukuda told a news conference that the H7N9 virus was more easily transmissible than the more common H5N1 strain of bird flu. Experts had previously remarked on the "affinity" of H7N9 for humans. "We think this virus is more transmissible to humans than H5N1," he said, referring to the strain the WHO estimates has killed more than 360 people globally since 2003."When we look at influenza viruses this is an unusually dangerous virus," he said, but he added: "We are really at the beginning of our understanding." Taiwanese health authorities said their first case, a 53-year-old man who had been working in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou, showed symptoms three days after returning to Taiwan via Shanghai. Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta told reporters the patient said he had not been in contact with poultry or eaten under-cooked birds or eggs while staying in Suzhou.The WTO team, however, said poultry were the likely source of the H7N9 outbreak as chickens, ducks and pigeons from markets had tested positive, but nevertheless warned over the potential for human-to-human transmission. "So far no migratory birds or their habitats have tested positive for H7N9," said team member Nancy Cox, director of the influenza division at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "At least we can now understand that the likely source of infection is poultry, the virus originates from poultry," she said. Experts have previously said the animal reservoir for H7N9 appeared to be unspecified birds.
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