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Chickens on a farm chicken on the outskirts of Shanghai, China, on April 3, 2013. Photo: Gillian Wong / AP

Global health officials are quietly ratcheting up concern about H7N9 bird flu, per the New York Times. "The number of human infections reported in [this epidemic] is almost as many as were reported during the previous four epidemics combined," notes the CDC of this years' flu season, though they believe this is due to increased spread among birds, not improved human transmission.

The bottom line: This particular lineage of H7N9 has long been "ranked as the influenza virus with the highest potential pandemic risk," according to the CDC. But there isn't yet a pandemic, and there might never be one. H7N9 could continue to be a small, regional problem like another influenza virus known as H5N1 has, or it could spread (comparatively) harmlessly, like H1N1/swine flu. Regardless, those who study the disease are watching it closely.

The CDC summarized recent developments in a September update of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, and in October the World Health Organization noted a seasonal uptick in cases.

Since October 2016:

  • 1600 people have tested positive for the virus.
  • 40% of those who tested positive have died.
  • The virus has become fatal in birds, which means it's potentially more deadly in humans.
  • The virus has split into two strains, which could interfere with vaccine development.
  • Research has shown it can transmit easily in ferrets. Viruses that succeed in ferrets are often successful in humans.

Reality check: Most of the infected humans caught the virus directly from birds. But it's not clear where a small number of people contracted the illness, raising concerns about human-to-human transmission. It's worth noting that bird flu strain H5N1, which first appeared in 2005, still can't successfully pass from person to person, so public health officials are slow to raise alarm.

Also worth watching: Australia just had one of their worst flu seasons on record, and the strains that circulated there are slated to be prevalent in the U.S. this flu season. But the U.S. has much higher vaccination rates than Australia, so the season may not be as bad, notes the NYT's Donald G. McNeil, Jr.

Go deeper

Rohingya refugees sue Facebook over Myanmar hate speech

Internally displaced Rohingya peoples at a market area in the Baw Du Pha IDP Camp in Sittwe in Myanmar's western Rakhine state. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images

Rohingya refugees accused Facebook in a $150 million lawsuit filed Monday of amplifying hate speech against the persecuted minority Muslims in Myanmar via algorithms and failing to take down inflammatory posts.

Why it matters: Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been killed in Myanmar in what the United Nations deemed a genocidal campaign. Tens of thousands of others have been displaced, notably following a massacre by Myanmar's military in 2017.

Former D.C. Guard alleges Army generals lied about Jan. 6 response

Members of the National Guard and Capitol police keep a small group of pro-Trump demonstrators away from the Capitol following the insurrection on Jan. 6. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A former D.C. National Guard official has alleged that two Army generals "lied" to Congress in their testimony on the U.S. Capitol riot, Politico first reported Monday.

The big picture: Col. Earl Matthews, who was serving on Jan. 6, alleges in a memo that the official version on the military response is "worthy of the best Stalinist or North Korea propagandist" and that the Pentagon inspector general's November report on it features "myriad inaccuracies, false or misleading statements, or examples of faulty analysis."

Toyota to build $1.3 billion U.S. battery plant in North Carolina

The all-electric Toyota bZ4X, the company's first battery-electric vehicle, at the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California on Nov. 17. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Toyota announced Monday it's investing $1.3 billion to construct an electric vehicle battery "megasite" near Greensboro, North Carolina, set to open in 2025.

Why it matters: The Greensboro-Randolph Megasite will employ 1,750 people and have four production lines, each capable of delivering enough lithium-ion batteries for 200,000 vehicles when it opens, per a Toyota statement.