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Mayo vaccine expert tracking China's latest bird flu outbreak

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It's a bird, it's a plane, it's ... another round of bird flu? As a new bird flu outbreak gathers steam in China, a vaccination expert was in Chaska Friday to talk about H7N9 and what we know about it.

"Right now they're in the very early stages, as they say, shoe leather epidemiology," Dr. Gergory Poland, head of the Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research group, tells KARE 11. "Trying to learn where is the virus, how is it spreading and isolation of people who are infected."

Poland was among the experts who appeared at a conference on vaccines and preventable diseases Friday at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, KARE reports. "If we were to see cases outside of China or in the US, or evidence of human-to-human transmission, then I think it would be justified for us to be very concerned," Poland said.

A 7-year-old girl is the latest person to be infected with bird flu in China -- and the first case in the Chinese capital, the country's official Xinhua news agency reported Saturday, according to CNN. Her case brings to 44 the number of people infected in China; 11 have died.

Chinese experts published a report Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine suggesting that the new H7N9 avian flu virus is even more deadly than previously believed.

The conclusions: H7N9 causes unusually severe respiratory infection, sepsis and brain damage, and appears to be resistant to vaccination and treatment, Forbes reports.

The New York Times reports Richard Webby, of the infectious diseases department at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, who was not involved in the report from China or the commentary, said that compared with other types of bird flu, H7N9 was the most worrisome he had seen because it seemed the most capable of infecting humans.

Researchers think the virus spread from wild birds to domestic birds, and then to pigs, and possibly back to birds. But it's not known yet exactly how it has been transmitted to humans. "Researchers can't wait for bird to fall from the sky," Poland told KARE.

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