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Report on avian flu victims points to severity of strain

A report on three of the first patients in China to contract a new strain of avian flu paints a grim portrait of severe pneumonia, septic shock and other complications that damaged the brain, kidney and other organs. All three died.

So far, the disease has killed 10 people in China and has sickened more than 20 others in the past two months, and new cases are reported daily. The illness is caused by a virus called H7N9 that patients contract from birds but that does not seem to spread from person to person.

The new report, by a team of researchers from China, was published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine along with a commentary from U.S. health officials, who said the disease “raises many urgent questions and global public health concerns.”

During a telephone news briefing Thursday, Nancy J. Cox, of the influenza division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that several features of H7N9 were particularly troubling: It causes severe disease, it has genetic traits that help it infect mammals, and humans probably have no resistance to it.

—Denise Grady, The New York Times

Cyprus bailout to cost more than predicted, creditors say

After a chaotic month in which Cyprus was pushed to the brink of default and a possible exit from the eurozone, Cypriots knew things would get bad. But not this bad.

According to a bleak assessment released Thursday by its European partners, the Cypriot economy will fall into a downward spiral for at least the next two years, contracting by up to 12.5 percent during the period as the country cuts back a banking sector that had ballooned to more than five times its gross domestic product.

And because the economy will do worse than expected, Cyprus must soon raise 13 billion euros — nearly twice the amount the government thought it would have to come up with just a month ago — in order to keep its debt and deficit from spinning out of control and to maintain a 10-billion-euro, or $13.1 billion, international bailout secured last month by the newly elected president, Nicos Anastasiades.

A shrinking economy means the country’s budget deficits are likely to grow, so the government will need to raise more money to keep the deficits within limits set under its bailout agreement. Because the government has also committed to improving the health of its banks, it must come up with more money to ensure that the lenders have adequate capital.

—Liz Alderman, The New York Times

NHL announces initiative in support of gay athletes

Amid heightened speculation that a male athlete in one of North America’s four major professional leagues will soon publicly declare his homosexuality, the National Hockey League and its players announced Thursday what appears to be the most comprehensive measure by a major men’s league in support of gay athletes.

The NHL said it had formed a partnership with the You Can Play Project, an advocacy group pledged to fight homophobia in sports, and planned training and counseling on gay issues for its teams and players.

Other major leagues — the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball — have policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and various officials have spoken in support of gay athletes. But no league seems to have taken such a strong public stance on the issue.

—Jeff Z. Klein and Judy Battista, The New York Times