Scientists To Make Deadlier Versions Of H7N9 Bird Flu In Lab

A team of virus researchers is set to perform studies on H7N9 that may make the bird flu more resistant to drugs and more easily transmitted between humans. The scientists announced their plans today in two major science journals, Nature and Science.

H7N9 first arose in eastern China this spring. Since then, it has killed 43 people and sickened 90 more. The outbreak is now under control, but the research team says the virus could gain traction again this winter flu season, so they want to do so-called gain-of-function studies to learn more about the virus quickly.

Gain-of-function studies are controversial. While it’s normal for international scientists to study disease outbreaks intensely, gain-of-function studies take it another step by making epidemic pathogens more dangerous, if only within labs. When scientists wanted to publish the first gain-of-function studies of H5N1 avian flu in 2011, public outcry led them to stop further studies for more than a year.

In short, it’s a question of whether the risk is worth the knowledge we gain about epidemic flus. Opponents worry that the ability-added viruses could escape from labs by accident and infect people. They also worry that terrorists could use published papers about the studies as recipes for bioweapons.

Proponents say the studies offer information that experiments on viruses in their natural state don’t. For example, researchers will test how many changes are needed to make H7N9 spread more easily than it currently does, to help them predict whether such a change is likely to happen naturally. “If only a few mutations are needed, the risk may be greater than if many changes are required,” Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a pathologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote toPopular Science in an email.

Safely done gain-of-function studies “will improve pandemic preparedness,” John McCauley, the director of the World Health Organization’s flu research center, said in a statement.

The latest gain-of-function studies face tougher oversight than before. U.S. health agenciesannounced today that they’ve set up a new level of review for any H7N9 studies that would make the virus easily transmissible in droplets carried in the air—the kind of invisible droplets that people make when the cough or sneeze, for example. U.S. agencies would be the primary funders of any gain-of-function H7N9 studies.

Prior to this announcement, researchers from all over the world performed many studies on H7N9 in its natural state. They’ve sequencing the virus’ genetic material, tracked how it’s transmitted and observed what happens to ferrets—a lab animal often used for flu studies—infected with the virus.

In one of the latest pieces of H7N9 research, scientists in China reported yesterday that they’ve found the first evidence that H7N9 is able to spread between people. The World Health Organization has said it thought this likely happened in isolated cases, but scientists had previously only seen proof of the virus moving from infected birds to people. H7N9 still seems to have a tough time spreading between people, as the sick man the Chinese scientists studied passed it only to his daughter, who tended to him, but not any of his dozens of close acquaintances. H7N9’s difficulty in passing between people has helped keep it from spreading further and becoming a pandemic.


Scientists Race To Stay Ahead Of New Bird Flu Virus

A precious package arrived at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last Thursday afternoon.

Inside, packed in dry ice to keep it frozen, was a vial containing millions of H7N9 viruses derived from a 35-year-old Chinese housewife who died last Tuesday of respiratory and kidney failure.

The package was addressed to the CDC’s top flu virologist,Nancy Cox. “Once we got the virus, we took it immediately to the appropriate level of biocontainment,” Cox tells Shots.

That would be a so-called biosafety level 3 lab, where researchers can keep this demonstrably dangerous virus under tight control.

“We unpacked it from the various levels of protection — that is, containers in which it is placed in order to ensure that it doesn’t spill,” Cox says. “And then the work actually began.”

There's a lot of urgent work to do, according to scientists in far-flung labs, who also got samples of the virus at the end of last week.

In fact, the urgency increased this weekend with the discovery that a 7-year-old girl in Beijing fell ill with this new bird flu last Thursday. She was the daughter of poultry sellers, and contact with poultry may be the way many people have become infected.

She’s reportedly in stable condition, but the fact that the virus has begun to sicken people nearly 700 miles from the epidemic’s epicenter in Shanghai is a strong signal that the virus will not be contained to one region of China — and perhaps not to China.

As of Monday morning, the current caseload of the new flu has climbed passed 60. Fourteen people have died, and most of the survivors have gotten severely ill.

Continue reading.

Photograph by AFP/Getty Images

It's only a virus

“Another piece of bad news comes from early stage vaccine development. Apparently, H7N9 only stimulates a weak immune response. This means that around 13 times more of the vaccine would be needed to protect against this virus than is required with other flu strains. So if there is a pandemic there will be less vaccine to go around. ”

Dorothy H. Crawford, author of Virus Hunt, on H7N9, virology, immunization, and a potential pandemic



With the Chinese New Year and the Olympics on the horizon, health officials can only watch and wait for a potential pandemic
By Alice Park for TIME Jan. 29, 2014 

IMAGES:  Workers place dead chickens into plastic bags after they were killed at the Wholesale Poultry Market in Cheung Sha Wan on January 28, 2014 in Hong Kong [Lam Yik Fei / Getty Images]  |||  CDC

As the first human cases of H7N9 bird flu infection outside of China begin to emerge—in Taiwan and Hong Kong—health officials around the world are preparing for a potentially perfect storm for a massive flu outbreak.

On Thursday, billions of Chinese will be on the move to celebrate the Lunar New Year (which is Friday, January 31), creating ripe conditions for the spread of the influenza virus from those already infected. And many of those celebrations will include chickens, the primary carriers of H7N9.

In addition, with the Winter Olympics, one of the world’s largest sporting events, just two weeks away, the virus could find the ideal conditions for breaking out. And that means the next plane could bring a pandemic to the U.S. or anywhere else around the world.

SOURCE:  H7N9 Bird Flu Not Just a China Problem | TIME.com)

How Nature Builds A Pandemic Flu Virus

Here’s a sobering thought: Wild birds — including city pigeons and ubiquitous Canada geese — carry 170 different types of bird flu. You know, all those viruses with the Hs and Ns in their names, like H1N1 and H5N1.

Only a dozen of these viruses have infected humans so far, but many of those have been deadly, and three of them have caused global flu pandemics.

Does every bird flu that leaps into people have the potential to turn into the next “big one” that spreads rapidly around the world?

That’s the “critical but currently answerable question,” writes Dr. Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

He and his colleagues took a look at the genetic sequences of past flu pandemics to learn how a virus goes from infecting only chickens or pigeons to sickening millions of people globally. They published their thoughts on the topic Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Take for instance the H7N9 bird flu. Doctors in China identified the first human infections of H7N9 this March. Since then, the virus has sickened 132 people and killed 37.

Although H7N9 doesn’t transmit easily between people, some scientists have worried that it could gain that ability.

The virus has several mutations in its genes that help it invade and live in human cells, Fauci and his colleagues write. These mutations are also found in flus that have caused pandemics, leading some scientists to predict that H7N9 is evolving into a global threat.

But Fauci and his colleagues say that’s not the way other flu pandemics came about. Those viruses didn’t just pick up single mutations here and there, slowly increasing their abilities to hop between people.

Continue reading.

Illustration showing how H7N9 evolved from other bird viruses by the New England Journal of Medicine.

Is This a Pandemic Being Born? - By Laurie Garrett | Foreign Policy

H7N9 Flu in China is starting to look scary.

Timeline of Events

Feb. 19

Feb. 27

March 4

March 9

  • First female patient, 35, from Anhui province became ill with H7N9 (Telegraph).

March 10

  • Initial report of over 900 dead pigs in Shanghai’s Huangpu River as of Saturday, March 9 (China Daily)

March 11

  • Count of dead pigs in rivers near Shanghai reaches nearly 3,000 (Business Insider).
  • Laboratory tests find porcine circovirus (PCV) in one water sample from Huangpu River (Xinhua News)

March 13

  • Officials say the number of pig carcasses in Huangpu River has risen to 6,000 (BBC).

March 14

  • Workers continued to haul dead hogs from a river in the Shanghai suburbs Thursday, where the pig body count now exceeds 6,600, according to the municipal government (USA Today).
  • Farm in Zhejiang province confesses to dumping pig carcasses into river (Bloomberg)

March 20

  • The number of dead pigs discovered in Chinese rivers around Shanghai has risen to almost 14,000 (BBC).

March 22

  • 50 pigs wash up onshore in Changsha, Hunan province; ~1,000 dead ducks are also discovered (NTDon China via YouTube)
  • Number of dead pigs found in Shanghai river rises to 16,000 (Independent)

March 25

  • China pulls 1,000 dead ducks from Sichuan river (BBC).
  • Government officials say that 1,000+ rotten duck carcasses pose no threat to human and livestock along river banks (Xinhua News).

March 26

  • Dumping of thousands of dead pigs linked with Chinese crackdown on pork black market (Business Insider)
  • More than 1,000 dead ducks, in 60 woven plastic bags, are found in Sichuan province (China DailyTime).

March 31

  • The government’s National Health and Family Planning Commission said over the weekend that two men, aged 87 and 27, died in Shanghai in early March after being infected with H7N9 avian influenza (AFP).

April 1

  • Widespread reporting about two human deaths and one severe casualty of a “lesser-known bird flu virus” (USA TodayAP).
  • Dr. Michael O'Leary, World Health Organization, says that there is no evidence to show that a type of bird flu which has killed two Chinese men can be transmitted between people (Reuters).

April 2

  • Shanghai Animal Disease Prevention and Control Center tested 34 samples of pig carcasses pulled from Huangpu River and found no flu viruses (Shanghai Daily).
H7N9: The Next Pandemic Flu?

Source: http://www.thesurvivalistblog.net/h7n9-the-next-pandemic-flu/

Please visit the link above for the full article and comments.


Scientists in China have identified a novel strain of the influenza virus, H7N9, which a little more than two weeks ago jumped from birds to humans. In the past two weeks, the novel bird flu has infected 62 and killed 14. Two patients have recovered, a four-year-old boy and a seven-year-old girl. Most of the remaining patients are said to be in “severe” condition. [1] Research suggests the flu is highly virulent and mutating rapidly. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is taking the new influenza strain very seriously. Chinese authorities released the new flu’s genetic sequence on April 1. On April 4, the CDC announced that it was beginning work on a vaccine.

This article is the first installment of a two part series. In this first installment, I provide background information on the novel influenza virus and explain why the CDC is responding with unprecedented speed. Let me be very clear about the gravity of this situation: The world is two genetic mutations away from pandemic flu. In the second part of this two-part series, I discuss practical steps you can implement to keep your family safe. These steps include preparing a basic flu kit, making elderberry tincture and elderberry syrup, getting supplies to create an isolation room, and focusing on proper hand washing techniques.


On March 31, Chinese authorities announced the first confirmed case of human infection with novel bird flu, subtype H7N9. Chinese authorities had by then completed a genetic sequencing of the virus. (That’s how they were able to identify the subtype of the novel virus.) Chinese authorities reported this information to the World Health Organization (WHO) and released the new flu’s genetic sequence for scientists around the world to study. (This is an unprecedented openness for Chinese authorities, who were severely criticized after failing to report SARS in a timely manner.)

Scientists around the world have examined the novel flu’s genetic structure and have raised a number of red flags.

  • 1.Unlike H5N1 that kills its host, H7N9 does not cause significant symptoms in birds. So, there aren’t birds falling from the sky to let folks know there’s a problem. [2]
  • 2.H7N9 contains a gene known to make the virus resistant to antiviral medications such as Tamiflu. [3]
  • 3.In the first three cases (the cases from which the virological samples were taken), the patients became ill very quickly. They progressed to severe pneumonia and upper respiratory distress very rapidly. Two of the three developed encephalopathy, which is an infection of the membrane surrounding the brain. This raises the concern that even if patients survive the bird flu, they may have brain damage. [4]
  • 4.Unlike, say, Strep, you can’t walk into your doctor’s office and come out 20 minutes later with a confirmed diagnosis. There’s no flu test for H7N9. (The CDC is currently developing such a test.) [2]
  • 5.Previous exposure to H7 flu subtypes offers no resistance to H7N9. There is no immunity in humans. [2]
  • 6.The coding of the proteins shows new the flu spreads easily from birds to humans. [3]
  • 7.The isolates from patients show a mutation that allows the virus to thrive in the cooler temperatures of the human upper respiratory system. This mutation is not present in avian samples. This shows the virus is mutating to its human host. [3]
  • 8.The first asymptomatic H7N9 case was discovered in Beijing on Monday, suggesting that more people may be infected than are being reported. The boy was tested because he had contact with the 7-year-old girl from Beijing who was sickened by the virus. [5] This should be all over the news today and will likely be a game changer. How many people are infected?
  • 9.The virus is mutating very quickly. [6]

This last point is very important. In a report released Sunday, scientists have confirmed that the virus mutates eight times faster than other influenza strains. According to this news report:

Chinese and international scientists have been busy studying the virus now that the entire genome has been sequenced. New research shows that H7N9 can change rapidly, potentially producing mutations that make it more infectious.

Scientists in Shenzhen found that a protein that binds H7N9 to its host’s cells could be mutating up to eight times faster than in a typical flu virus.

Dr. He Jiankui at South University of Science and Technology of China and colleagues found rapid mutation in hemagglutinin in one of the samples, with nine of 560 amino acids changed in a very short time.[7]

Another fact that is especially troublesome is that the geographic area impacted by the virus is expanding. (The first two cases were reported in Shanghai, in eastern China. On Saturday, a seven-year-old girl from Beijing (western China) tested positive for the virus. Two new cases have been reported in provinces in central China. For a timeline of infections, see [8]. Thus far there are no confirmed cases outside China; however, officials in neighboring countries are preparing for the virus to spread. (Monday morning update: There is a suspected case in Taiwan. Officials sent samples to the lab for confirmation.)

At this point, there is no evidence of sustained person-to-person transmission. In one case, however, a woman died from the virus and her husband died of the virus several days later. However, we don’t’ know if the man contracted the virus from his wife (person-to-person transmission) or if they were both exposed to the same pathogenic source. (One fact that seems to rule out sustained person-to-person transmission is that Chinese authorities have monitored over 1,000 close contact of victims, and none of them, with the exception of the married couple mentioned above and a possible father and two sons cluster, are symptomatic.) Again, the discovery of an asymptomatic boy in Beijing may be a game changer here.

A further concern is that Chinese authorities have yet to locate the epicenter of the virus. They have found infected birds at local markets. They have culled hundreds of thousands of birds at these markets. However, they haven’t located a poultry farm with infected poultry. This suggests that the carrier is not domestic poultry but wild birds. [9] Indeed, a top Chinese biology lab has found that H7N9 is the result of a reassortment of genes from wild birds from east Asia and chickens from east China. [10]

Last year scientists published a report on how to create a pandemic flu in a laboratory setting. [11] Scientists were surprised at how easy it was to create the “Franken-flu”–only five mutations were necessary. The new flu virus already has three of the five mutations. [12] And that’s scary given how rapidly H7N9 is mutating. This is what has scientist concerned. And this is why the CDC has moved with unprecedented speed to begin work on creating a vaccine.


There are three steps necessary for a flu virus to reach pandemic status: (1) high virulence, (2) lack of immunity, and (3) sustained person-to-person transmission. H7N9 has the first two and is two mutations away from the third. We are two mutations away from pandemic flu.

Post Script

Even if H7N9 does not mutate into a virus that is easily transmitted from person to person, it will still impact the rest of the world. It is very reasonable to think H7N9 will spread via the same migratory patterns in wild birds that brought H5N1 from Hong Kong to the rest of the world. [13]


[1] http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/04/15/asia-pacific/h7n9-bird-flu-spreads-to-central-china/#.UWtN4RkpsSo

[2] http://www.forbes.com/sites/melaniehaiken/2013/04/12/new-bird-flu-danger-worse-than-believed-says-urgent-report/

[3] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-04-11/tamiflu-resistance-gene-in-h7n9-bird-flu-spurs-drug-tests.html

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/12/world/asia/report-published-on-3-who-died-from-h7n9-bird-flu.html

[5] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-04-15/symptom-free-bird-flu-case-suggests-wider-h7n9-spread.html

[6] http://www.asianscientist.com/in-the-lab/h7n9-bird-flu-strain-adapted-humans-2013/

[7] http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/15293-new-bird-flu-research-suggests-h7n9-easily-infects-humans/

[8] http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/15293-new-bird-flu-research-suggests-h7n9-easily-infects-humans/

[9] Timeline of cases: http://crofsblogs.typepad.com/files/h7n9-april-13-update.pdf

[10] http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/cidrap/content/influenza/avianflu/news/apr1013china.html

[11] http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/jun/21/results-published-pandemic-h5n1-bird-flu

[12] http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23368-china-bird-flu-may-be-two-mutations-from-a-pandemic.html

[13] http://www.livescience.com/430-deadly-flu-reach-bird-migration-expert.html

First Human Cases Of H7N9 Bird Flu Reported In Shanghai

This weekend Chinese authorities reported that a lesser-known strain of bird flu H7N9 killed two men and left a woman in critical condition.

These are the first human cases of H7N9. Other strains of the H7 influenza A cause only a mild illness in poultry.

It’s unknown how the three people caught the bug or how the virus could all of the sudden start infecting people. Here’s what the South China Morning Post said about the three cases:

The victims showed symptoms of fever and coughing and later developed severe pneumonia and breathing difficulties.

Experts say the virus does not seem to be highly contagious but appears more deadly than other strains of the H7 virus that have previously infected humans.

There was no indication the three contracted the disease from each other and no signs of H7N9 infection among the 88 people who had closest contact with them, the medical agency said.

So what does H7N9 mean? 

Influenza A viruses have little protein “spikes” on their surfaces, which help them enter and exit cells. The two major types of spikes are hemagglutinin, or “H” (blue spikes) and neuraminidase, or “N” (red spikes).

There are 16 different types of hemagglutinin and 9 varieties of neuraminidase, making 144 different possible combinations of these proteins. For instance, H1N1 (shown above), which caused the swine flu epidemic in 2009, has hemagglutinin 1 and neuraminidase 1.

H7N9 is the 11th influenza A strain known to infect humans. The H5N1 blog has a nice timeline for the three cases.

Image from Morgridge Institute for Research.


A Tale of Two Viruses
By Maura Elizabeth Cunningham

Despite public concern about the emergence of H7N9 bird flu in Shanghai, only a handful of pedestrians walking along the waterfront Bund on Monday, April 8 chose to don face masks. Those who did opt for the protective gear likely did so not out of pandemic-related fears, but because of the light smog hanging over the city; at 5pm, when this photo was taken, the air quality was rated as “Unhealthy” by the U.S. Consulate’s Twitter feed. Image © Maura Elizabeth Cunningham.

April, 2003 - I am almost finished with my junior year of college, working evenings and weekends and any other hours I can squeeze out of the day as a clerk in the emergency department of a South Philadelphia hospital. I am desperate to escape Philadelphia and have signed up for a summer course in Beijing; I’ve never been to China before and am not even entirely sure I want to go, but am drawn by the fact that Beijing is literally on the other side of the world from my hometown, precisely twelve time zones away.

I arrive at the hospital one weekday evening and take over from a co-worker, who calls me from home an hour later. She’s been watching the news and has just seen a report about a deadly respiratory virus that’s hit Beijing—maybe I should reconsider my summer plans, she suggests. My co-worker is an excitable woman who sees catastrophe everywhere she turns. I humor her, assure her I’m sure the news program is making a mountain out of a molehill, and get back to work. There’s no way in hell I’m not getting on a plane to Beijing in early June.

Of course, I am wrong. The disease my co-worker has warned me about is SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which would eventually kill hundreds of people around the world and sicken thousands. Authorities in Beijing have tried to cover up the extent of the disease’s spread, but journalists have ferreted out the truth, and everyone I know warns me about the danger of traveling to China. For weeks, I stubbornly insist that SARS doesn’t scare me; I refuse to cancel my summer plans.

In the end, the decision is out of my hands. SARS spooks everyone, and the center where I was supposed to study closes and sends all of its foreign students home. I fill my summer with 60-, 70-, 80-hour weeks at the hospital so I’ll have money to go somewhere other than Philadelphia once I graduate from college. Eventually, in early 2005, that “somewhere” did turn out to be Beijing after all; but that’s another story.

April, 2013 - On the odd occasions that I think about it, that summer of 2003 represents a Great Unknown in my life: maybe going to Beijing then would have turned out to be a huge mistake, an overwhelming encounter with a sweltering city and a totally unfamiliar language. Maybe that would have been my only trip to China. Or it could have gone in a different direction, pulling me in so completely that I’d refuse to return to Philadelphia and college and the emergency department when the summer term ended. So many possibilities, made unknowable by SARS.

Ten years later, I sit in my Shanghai apartment and scan stories on the Internet about an outbreak of H7N9, “bird flu,” the epicenter of which is in my city. Six people have died (one at the hospital up the street from my home) and another dozen or more have fallen ill. Coinciding with the anniversary of SARS, this new threat renews fears that the Chinese government is hiding the truth about the disease, that it will turn out to be far more widespread than officials will admit. But while online chatter is full of these concerns, they seem to evaporate when I step away from the computer and walk around my neighborhood. Street stalls and supermarkets continue selling chicken, though the virus has been linked to diseased poultry and the sale of live chickens banned, and the vast majority of the people outside eschew wearing the surgical face masks that are popular attire on especially smoggy days. I stand in line for breakfast at a food stall and realize I’m surrounded by people coughing, sneezing, and spitting on the sidewalk; no one gives such behavior a sideways glance.

Are we all fooling ourselves, stubbornly pretending, as I did a decade ago, that this too will pass and there’s no need to alter our plans or acknowledge the threat of a potential pandemic? Or will this bird flu outbreak turn out to be more consequential than it seems today, a viral mutation that will somehow affect my life, and those of millions of other people in this city, in ways that we cannot imagine? I hesitate to make any predictions—after all, I was totally wrong about SARS.

But I am reasonably confident when I say this: it’s harder for the government to hide things in China today than it was in 2003. A decade ago, the country did not have an active population of Internet users dedicated to unearthing official malfeasance and obfuscation, as it does today. The SARS experience made everyone more sensitive to the need for government transparency, and if the Chinese Communist Party’s leaders are smart, they recognize that another public health-related debacle could be ruinous to the party’s legitimacy. SARS subtly shifted the course of my life (maybe. Who knows?), but it had a tremendous effect on the willingness of the Chinese to accept at face value the stories their government told them. Strange as it may sound, I’m increasingly relying on the party’s fear of falling from power to guide it into doing the right thing. That might be the best medicine we have in our arsenal.

Further Reading

Check out Pallavi Aiyar’s Chinese Whiskers, a fictional account of the SARS crisis (and other headline events) as seen through the eyes of two Beijing cats, which I reviewed for the Asian Review of Books in 2011.

The New Bird Flu, and How to Read the News About It

By now you’ve no doubt heard that international health authorities are deeply concerned about a new flu strain that has surfaced in China: H7N9, which so far has sickened at least 16 people and killed six of them. The outbreak has a number of features that are troubling. It emerged rapidly; the first cases were announced five days ago, and the first death apparently occurred on Feb. 27. It is widely distributed: Confirmed cases have been found in three adjoining provinces that wrap around Shanghai, and also in Shanghai municipality itself. And it is novel: H7N9 has never been recorded in humans before. For infectious-disease geeks, it’s that last aspect that raises a particular nervous thrill. Most of the time, most people take flu for granted, to the point of not bothering to be vaccinated against it because they assume it will not make them very sick. But every once in a while, flu defies expectations, and roars up into a pandemic: worldwide spread, high numbers of cases, high rates of death. When a pandemic occurs, almost definitionally, it is because of a new strain to which humans have no prior immunity. In human terms, H7N9 is a new strain.

See: First human infections with avian influenza H7N9 virus


University of Hong Kong study:
Closing poultry markets in China would effectively control H7N9

Agence France-Presse in Paris
[ via South China Morning Post 31 October, 2013  ||  Photo: David Wong  ]

Closing live poultry markets, though a huge economic setback, is a sure-fire way of curbing the deadly H7N9 bird flu in case of an outbreak, disease control researchers said on Thursday. The closure of 780 live poultry markets (LPMs) in the Chinese cities of Shanghai, Hangzhou, Huzhou and Nanjing in April 2013 reduced the daily number of H7N9 infections by more than 97 per cent, said a study in The Lancet medical journal.

Most have since reopened, and China is approaching its flu season now.

Continue reading in the South China Morning Post …

World Health Organization FAQ (April 2013) on H7N9 …

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on H7N9 …


August 2013 - in Biospectrum India
The first human to human transmission of the new strain of new avian influenza A ( H7N9) has been reported in an eastern China village.

A Chinese father is suspected to have transmitted the novel avian influenza A (H7N9) virus to his daughter who had tended to him during the illness in early March 2013. Both the father and daughter died due to the infection in the next two months.

Though alarming, scientists conclude that the human-to-human transmission process has not been found to be very efficient as it had spared nearly two dozen close relatives who too had been in the proximity of the infected man during the same period, reported a study published by the British Medical Journal.


What Does The New Bird Flu In China Look Like?

Since February, a new strain of bird flu – called H7N9 – has infected at least 126 people and killed 24 across 10 cities and provinces in China.

“This is an unusually dangerous virus for humans,” Keiji Fukuda, from the World Health Organization, said Wednesday in Beijing. The virus “is more easily transmissible from poultry to humans than H5N1,” he added.

H7N9 bird flu may be hiding out at markets where live chickens are sold, the journal Science reported:

Shanghai closed its live poultry markets on 6 April, shortly after the market link was suspected. “Almost immediately there was a decline in the number of new cases,” said Anne Kelso, director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza in Melbourne, Australia. “This is a very encouraging outcome so far,” she added, calling the decision to close markets “very quick and appropriate.”

But the exact source of the virus is still a mystery.

Back in the U.S., scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been busy growing H7N9 in the lab so researchers around the world can start studying it.

The CDC released the first images of H7N9 taken with an electron microscope. The virus forms both filaments, top, and spherical shapes, middle.

Images from the CDC

Letter on Starting Gain-of-Function Mutation Experiments for H7N9

The journals Science and Nature have jointly published Correspondence, signed by numerous researchers, setting out plans to undertake gain-of-function (GOF) research on the avian influenza H7N9 viruses. Gain-of-function experiments introduce changes into a virus in order to understand, for example, whether certain mutations would affect the ability of a vaccine to work or make a virus more transmissible. This is done in an effort to understand how likely it is for such mutations to evolve naturally and cause a human pandemic.

Read more about this research from the 7 August issue of Science Express here.

[Image courtesy of Takeshi Noda/University of Tokyo. Click the image for more information.]

© 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science. All Rights Reserved.

As Bird Flu Spreads In China, The Source Remains A Mystery

The new bird flu in China has come with a long list of questions.

Are the 82 cases reported so far just the tip of a larger outbreak? Why does the virus cause mild symptoms in some people and severe pneumonia in others?

Perhaps the most critical question is also the simplest: How do people catch the bug?

The H7N9 virus clearly infects birds. Health workers have detected it in chickens, ducks and pigeons.

But many people who have gotten sick didn’t came near birds, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.

A scientist at the China Disease Prevention and Control Centre said that nearly 40 percent of patients with H7N9 don’t have a clear history of poultry exposure, The Beijing News reported Tuesday.

So what’s fueling the outbreak?

Continue reading.

Photo by Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images