Health authorities are monitoring 88 people who came into contact with the H7N9 patients and have not found any additional infections so far, China's health agency said. Experts say that indicates that the chance of human-to-human transmission is low.
"It is very unlikely, because the virus has to break the species barrier and this is usually quite a difficult event. There has to be a lot of significant mutation," said David Hui, an infectious disease expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Many epidemiologists regard densely populated parts of China and Southeast Asia, where farmers often live in close quarters with pigs and poultry, as regions where conditions are ideal for nurturing infectious diseases that jump from animals to humans. An earlier deadly outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, was linked to wild animals that infected animals, which in turn infected people in that region.
One of the male victims of H7N9, who was 87, became ill on Feb. 19 and died on Feb 27. The other man, 27, became ill on Feb. 27 and died on March 4, the Chinese health commission said. A 35-year-old woman in the Anhui city of Chuzhou became ill on March 9.
Timothy O'Leary, the World Health Organization's regional spokesman in Manila, said the risk to public health appears low because there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission, but that WHO is closely monitoring the situation.
"Obviously we're very concerned about the evidence that humans have not only become infected with H7N9, but also have died as a result of it," O'Leary said. "So we're taking it seriously."
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