Here’s What You Need to Know About the Bird-Flu Case in Hong Kong

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ChinaFotoPress / Getty Images

Chickens for sale at a poultry market in China in April, 2013

Health officials say the situation is “serious” after a domestic worker was hospitalized in November.

H7N9, an influenza virus that normally infects birds such as chickens and wild geese, first jumped to human hosts in China early this year. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 20% of those infected have died, but the virus does not spread easily from person to person — at least not yet. So far, the World Health Organization says 137 people have been sickened by H7N9 and 45 have died. Here’s what you need to know about the latest bird flu and whether it poses a threat in the U.S.

(MORE: Hong Kong on Alert After Woman Catches Bird Flu)

How did the latest patient get infected?
The 36-year-old woman had visited Shenzhen, China, where she slaughtered and ate a chicken, according to Hong Kong health officials. She felt ill, with fever, chills and breathing difficulty and was hospitalized after returning to Hong Kong.

Has anyone in the U.S. been infected with H7N9?
So far, no cases of the infection have been reported in the U.S., and the CDC says the risk of H7N9 infection is “low.” All of the human cases so far have been reported in Asia. But it is possible that travelers to Asian countries where the virus has been found in chickens and other poultry could become infected and bring this bird flu to the U.S.

Will my flu shot protect me against H7N9?
No, there is no vaccine against H7N9 yet, although researchers are working on developing one. This year’s flu shot protects against H1N1, H3N2, and either one or both of the B-group influenza viruses currently circulating around the world.

Is H7N9 more dangerous than the previous bird flu, H5N1?
That’s hard to tell so far, since so few human cases have been reported. But flu experts are watching H7N9 closely since the virus seems to be making genetic changes that might help it infect people more easily.

What are Hong Kong officials doing to contain H7N9?
The Hong Kong government has halted imports of live poultry from three farms in Shenzhen and alerted WHO and Chinese health officials.

MORE: H7N9 Bird Flu: Could Animals Other Than Birds Harbor the Virus?