News / Science & Technology

Study Identifies Risks of Human Spread of H7N9 Bird Flu

Authorities are taking samples of live poultry from mainland China to test for the H7N9 virus, April 11, 2013.
Authorities are taking samples of live poultry from mainland China to test for the H7N9 virus, April 11, 2013.
Jessica Berman
A new study finds that the recently discovered H7N9 bird flu virus, which has been circulating among poultry flocks in eastern China, can be transmitted among ferrets, small mammals that provide a laboratory model for human contagion.  Since the H7N9 virus was first identified in China last February, there have been 132 human infections confirmed in China and one in Taiwan, with a total of 36 deaths.  While there have been concerns that this bird flu could become a global pandemic, the new study suggests that the virus could spread among people.

So far, it appears that people who have been diagnosed with the H7N9 virus have all had close contact with infected birds, primarily in live poultry markets.  To become a pandemic, the avian virus would have to spread easily from human-to-human.

To find out how efficiently the virus can be transmitted among humans, an international team of researchers, led by Chinese scientists, studied its contagion among ferrets. The small mammals can transmit infectious diseases through aerosols produced by sneezing and coughing, much like humans.

Richard Webby is a virologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee and a study co-author.  Webby said the work seems to suggest humans would have to be in close contact to transmit this virus. “That’s what our ferret studies would support. That potentially, if you have infected people very close to uninfected people, you might get transmission," he explained. "But it’s not very efficient.”

Chinese investigators swabbed the noses of a group of ferrets infected with the H7N9 virus taken from an infected human patient who had died. Researchers detected evidence of H7 through the nasal samples before the animals developed respiratory symptoms, suggesting more people may be carriers of the virus than is currently believed.  

The disease was also transmitted to uninfected ferrets through direct contact with infected animals in the same cage, simulating what might happen among human family members living in the same home.

But when they were placed in a separate cage and exposed to diseased animals in another enclosure, only 1 of 3 healthy ferrets contracted H7N9.  Researchers also found the virus did not transmit to pigs, another potential reservoir of influenza.

Experts believe both airborne and direct contact transmission is needed to ignite a pandemic.
Anthony Fauci is director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.  Fauci said the findings of the Chinese study confirm what's already known about H7N9. "That it can be transmitted to mammals rarely and inefficiently, and it's not being transmitted in any way from person to person," he stated.

Meanwhile, in the first human population study of H7N9 influenza, researchers analyzed just over 1,700 blood samples for 5 different avian flu viruses in the H7 subtype, in both urban and rural areas in southern Vietnam, which neighbors China.  

Investigators found low levels of H7 antibodies, markers of the human immune system's ability to defend against pathogens. The researchers say the low levels suggest that international measures to contain the H7N9 influenza, in the event of severe outbreak, will need to be targeted in Asia.

The Chinese transmissibility study recommends that to avoid H7N9 becoming endemic in poultry populations -- a development that would create new opportuinities for human transmission, live poultry markets in the region must be more carefully and strictly managed.

Their research is published in the journal Science Express.

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs