The Elusive H7N9 Virus: Chinese Researchers Predict Future Pandemic
By Jennifer Wong
June 18th 2013
Since February 2013, China experienced an outbreak of the novel H7N9 avian flu, causing 131 cases of infection, and a death toll of 39. This particular H7N9 strain is considered to be one of the most worrisome pathogens since the H5N1 pandemic in 1997; a reputation based on the virus’ ability to spread easily across species and to infect humans. According to the May 23, 2013 Science paper published by the Joint Influenza Research Centre (State Key Laboratory of Emerging Infectious Diseases, Shantou PR, China), Drs. Y. Guan and Y. Shu reported that H7N9 infects the upper respiratory tract of ferrets and pigs, and spreads via direct contact, suggesting that the rapid surge of H7N9 infections are likely caused by human’s direct contact with infected birds.
The source of the H7N9 virus is quite elusive, mainly because birds carrying the H7N9 virus appear to be unharmed by the infection. This is quite unlike the H5N1 outbreak in 1997, where H5N1-infected birds can succumb to the infection, and that the presence of dead ducks and poultry often indicates the presence of the H5N1 virus.
The Elusive Origin of H7N9