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China Refuses To Share Samples Of Deadly Flu Strain With US Health Officials


by Evie Fordham

China refused to share samples of a deadly flu strain with the U.S. for over a year, causing health officials to worry about how trade tensions between the two countries could decimate once-normal information sharing.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has guidelines for countries about sharing samples of dangerous viruses so that more governments can work on vaccines and other treatments. The process for sending lab samples typically takes a few months, not more than a year, reported The New York Times.

The virus that China dragged its feet on sending samples of is H7N9, a serious strain of the avian flu. H7N9 killed 39 percent of infected people during its first five epidemics between 2013 and 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 1,500 people caught the virus during that time period. Nearly all of the cases were in China.

Scientists worry that the H7N9 virus is a “candidate” for the cause of the next global flu scare, reported TheNYT.

“Jeopardizing U.S. access to foreign pathogens and therapies to counter them undermines our nation’s ability to protect against infections which can spread globally within days,” Dr. Michael Callahan, an infectious disease specialist at Harvard Medical School, told TheNYT.

However, China claims it eliminated H7N9 on its own and will not reveal information about infected patients. The virus started by infecting poultry then evolved to jump from poultry to humans.

The refusal to share the virus underscores tensions between the U.S. and China that also flared when the U.S. imposed tariffs on Chinese goods in July.

There are other reasons why China might want to keep samples of the virus to itself. The country might want a “head-start” in researching and developing a cure for the virus that could sweep the globe, making any treatment very valuable, reported TheNYT.

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