May 15, 2013 (CIDRAP News) – The first patient in China's Hunan province with confirmed H7N9 influenza has died, lifting the outbreak's fatality count to 36, according to official and media reports today.
The patient is a 64-year-old woman who died yesterday morning at a hospital in Shaoyang, about 20 days after her illness was detected, according to a report from Xinhua, China's state news agency. The source of the information is the Hunan Provincial Health and Family Planning Commission.
The number of new H7N9 infections has tailed off in recent week, with the latest one reported May 7, which edged the number of cases to 131. However, the death toll continues to rise, because many of the previously confirmed patients are still hospitalized, battling the often serious complications of the disease, which can include acute respiratory distress syndrome and organ failure.
It's not clear why the outbreak has stalled. Influenza experts suspect closures of live-poultry markets could be curbing infections in humans, or the virus could be showing a drop in warm weather months seen with other avian influenza viruses. Another possibility is that H7N9 could be dying out, a pattern that has been seen before with other novel flu viruses.