China’s hostage is not a person, but rather a flu sample. The sample is of H7N9, a relatively new strand of the bird flu with a death rate of 40%. It was first reported back in March of 2013 in China, where it then began to spread to other countries like Taiwan, Malaysia, and Canada. As of April 5, 2017, there has been a total of 1,364 people infected and over 500 casualties. The virus spreads is through contact with birds or visits to poultry markets-especially when you travel-that are housing the virus. Although H7N9 is a bird flu that does not normally affect humans, it has quickly mutated and has now become able to do so.
This abrupt mutation has made researching the virus crucial to developing vaccines and treatments against the virus, but there is a huge problem. Most of the outbreaks happen in China, and the strand of the mutated virus has only been found there, meaning the samples are out of reach of other nations. For over a year American officials and research institutions have persistently requested for samples, but China has failed to provide any. U.S. scientist’s want to study the virus’ evolution in light of the recent outbreak in Tennessee, but cannot due to China’s failure to cooperate. Given its high fatality rate, withholding the samples of a flu virus can lead to the needless deaths of thousands more due to the lack of international access to them. China has cooperated in the past by providing timely information with officials when the virus first broke out in 2013, but as communications worsened overtime, China has now begun to refuse sharing any data about the human patients who are infected. We can only hope communications between China and foreign nations will revert to how they first were as cooperation between multiple nations is key to preventing the virus from taking more innocent lives.