The emerging H7N9 avian influenza virus responsible for at least 37 human deaths in China has qualities that could potentially spark a global influenza pandemic, according to a new study published yesterday (July 11th, 2013) in the journal Nature.
An international team led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Tokyo conducted a comprehensive analysis of two of the first human isolates of the virus from patients in China. Their efforts revealed the H7N9 virus's ability to infect and replicate in several species of mammals, including ferrets and monkeys, and to transmit in ferrets — data that suggests H7N9 viruses have the potential to become a worldwide threat to human health.
"H7N9 viruses have several features typically associated with human influenza viruses and therefore possess pandemic potential and need to be monitored closely," says Kawaoka, one of the world's leading experts on avian flu.
"If H7N9 viruses acquire the ability to transmit efficiently from person to person, a worldwide outbreak is almost certain since humans lack protective immune responses to these types of viruses," says Kawaoka.