April 7, 2013
The new bird influenza that’s killed six people in eastern China has some of the genetic hallmarks of an easily transmissible virus, according to the scientist who showed how H5N1 avian flu could become airborne.
The H7N9 strain, which is a new virus formed as a result of two others merging their genetic material, has features of viruses that are known to jump easily from birds to mammals, and a mutation that may help it attach to cells in the respiratory tract, said Ron Fouchier, a professor of molecular virology at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, in a telephone interview yesterday.
“That’s certainly not good news,” said Fouchier, who reviewed a gene sequencing of H7N9 published by Chinese health authorities. “This virus really doesn’t look like a bird virus anymore; it looks like a mammalian virus.”
To curb the spread of H7N9, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Nanjing, cities with confirmed human cases of the virus, have halted trading in live poultry, closed bird markets and slaughtered more than 20,000 fowl. Shanghai today reported two new infections, taking China’s tally to 18, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News from reports released by the national and provincial governments.