H7N9 prompts fresh look at H7 pandemic potential

Tuesday, July 9, 2013
By Paul Martin

Lisa Schnirring
CIDRAP News
Jul 09, 2013

Some of the US government’s top influenza experts today weighed in on the threat from the new H7N9 virus, airing some unusual properties of H7 viruses that challenge the notion that they aren’t likely to adapt to humans or cause pandemics.

The same experts addressed the H7N9 virus linked to China’s recent outbreak more specifically in the Jun 20 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), but their report today looks at the pandemic potential through the lens of what’s known about other H7 viruses.

The group’s review appears in the latest issue of mBio, the online journal of the American Society for Microbiology. The experts are all from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). They are NIAID Director Anthony Fauci, MD, Dave Morens, MD, senior advisor to Fauci, and Jeffery Taubenberger, MD, PhD, section chief of NIAID’s Laboratory of Infectious Diseases.

Over the past several decades, avian H7 viruses have caused many poultry outbreaks in Europe and North America, but since at least 1918, none have evolved to widely infect humans, according to the report.

Fauci told CIDRAP News that in the NEJM commentary the group addressed how complex it would be for the H7N9 to become fully transmissible through mutations alone, though they cautioned that flu viruses are notoriously unpredictable.

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