Black Swan Brewing: Could be the Next Market Shaper!

AMR stands for antimicrobial resistance and it occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites adapt or change to make current therapies ineffective (mostly antibiotic-resistant strains). Scientists are estimating that AMR kills 700,000 people worldwide today, but this death rate may exponentially accelerate to more than 10 million a year by 2050. But, we have a growing concern emerging today – and it comes from China.

I got the nickname “bird flu boy” several years ago when I constantly wrote about the Avian Influenza as it ebbed and flowed through Asia and parts of Europe. Despite an occasional mass culling of poultry, it really didn’t have a major impact on economics or the business world. So, we slowed down in our coverage.

But, a strain of H7N9 has just captured the attention of researchers around the world.

The big reason why Avian Influenza has not been a concern for most humans is that previously we would have had to get it from an infected bird. You had to directly consume bacteria from an infected bird through unsanitary processing or handling of live birds that had the flu, the virus wasn’t airborne. That made the risk of getting the flu very slim. Transmission from human to human was very difficult because it did require direct contact. That may be changing.

A strain of H7N9 in China has recently been tested by scientists in Japan and several other countries (note how willing adversarial countries are in working together on this initiative – does that help underscore how concerned they are about it?), and they are getting disturbing results.

A series of healthy ferrets and mice were held in cages, and one of each mammal with the new strain of H7N9 was introduced in separate cages near those healthy specimens. The virus spread easily from cage to cage (with handlers and scientists being careful not to allow transmission via handling or cross-contamination of tools/instruments, etc.) – leading scientists to believe that the “virus had gone airborne”.

“Senior author Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Tokyo and University of Wisconsin-Madison said that “collectively, these data suggest that HPAI H7N9 viruses may be closer to acquiring efficient transmission in humans and, therefore, have greater pandemic potential than the HPAI H5N1 viruses.”

There is also a concern about how easily this strain is to get and how little of the virus is required to cause problems in humans.

“Given that the amount of virus needed to initiate infection of exposed ferrets via respiratory droplets is small, these findings suggest that the H7N9 virus requires only a limited amount of virus to cause lethal infection, at least in this animal model,” Kawaoka says. “The fact that respiratory droplet-exposed ferrets succumbed to their infections clearly suggests a substantial increase in the pathogenicity of H7N9 viruses in mammals compared with their progenitor (prior) H7N9 viruses, requiring close monitoring of H7N9 viruses in the field.”

The mortality rate on this strain is also high. Two out three ferrets infected with the virus died (66% mortality rate). Although ferrets are obviously different from humans, many of the diseases that they contract behave similarly in humans. The current human mortality rate is 40% on 1,562 infections since 2013 (again – in the older strain that could not be easily passed between humans).

Scientists got increasingly alarmed last year when more than 764 of the 1,562 historic cases were discovered during the last flu season. That shows a rapid acceleration of the infections.

But that won’t hold a candle to what would happen if H7N9 has truly gone airborne. Remember the SARS scare? – KP

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