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China is withholding samples of a deadly flu strain necessary to develop vaccines from the US

The Chinese government has reportedly refused to give the U.S. a sample of the deadly H7N9 avian flu that the U.S. needs in order to create an effective vaccine. On Feb. 12, 2017, an H7N9 bird flu patient is being treated in a hospital in Wuhan, central China's Hubei province. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The Chinese government has reportedly refused to give the United States a sample of the deadly H7N9 avian flu. U.S. health experts need the sample in order to create an effective vaccine.

What is H7N9 avian flu?

H7N9 infects poultry, but can also be spread from birds to humans by contact. In some cases, it has also reportedly been spread from person to person, but these cases are rare.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there has been only one reported human infection since Oct. 1. However, from the beginning of 2013 to the end of 2017, there have been 1,565 total confirmed infections, according to the World Health Organization. There have been five epidemics of the disease in China so far, with a 39 percent mortality rate.

The CDC said that "while the current risk to the public’s health posed by Asian H7N9 virus is low, the pandemic potential of this virus is concerning. Influenza viruses constantly change and it is possible that this virus could gain the ability to spread easily and sustainably among people, triggering a global outbreak of disease (i.e., a pandemic)."

Because of this, U.S. health experts are anxious to develop vaccines and treatments to counteract the virus. This sharing of influenza samples in order to develop effective treatments is routine and mandated as part of an agreement among member states of the World Health Organization. Both China and the U.S. are members of WHO.

What's happening now?

China has been withholding its samples of the virus for over a year now. Scientists working for the Department of Agriculture has reportedly gotten so frustrated with China's refusal to hand over the samples that they have stopped requesting them, according to the New York Times.

The process of obtaining these samples reportedly takes several months, Larry Kerr the director of pandemics and emerging threats at the Department of Health and Human Services told the Times. However, after a year,  the process for getting the samples from this strain of the flu has not even started.

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