A new strain of H7N9, commonly known and referred to as bird flu, is circulating in China, and scientists believe this could pose a threat to humans as it has the potential to trigger a global pandemic.
American and Japanese researchers have tested the new bird flu strain, which has been circulating in China since 2013. On a report published by the researchers at Cell Host and Microbe on Thursday, the new virus strain that was tested on mice, ferrets and other non-human mammals had replicated efficiently.
According to the scientists’ report, the virus spreads rather quickly from cage to cage, meaning the virus could get transferred to other animals via respiratory droplets through sneezing and coughing.
What’s even more alarming is that two of the three healthy ferrets the scientists infected with the new strain of H7N9 virus died during the test. This could mean that even a tiny droplet containing the virus may cause severe implications.
“The work is very concerning in terms of the implications for what H7N9 might do in the days ahead in terms of human infection,” infectious disease expert from the University of Minnesota, Michael Osterholm, told Reuters.
“Neuraminidase inhibitors showed limited effectiveness against these viruses in vivo, but the viruses were susceptible to a polymerase inhibitor,” the scientists wrote in terms of how to counter the new virus.
“These results suggest that the highly pathogenic H7N9 virus has pandemic potential and should be closely monitored.”
Since it was first discovered in China in 2013, the new H7N9 strain already infected 1,562 people and killed at least 612. It was reported that 40% of those who were admitted into a hospital died from the disease.
There are H7N9 vaccines based on the 2013 strain. The CDC has come up with a new vaccine based on low pathogenic strains of the mutated virus, but it still requires some testing on humans, according to Dr. Timothy Uyeki, a CDC flu expert.
China is also developing four vaccines against the H7N9 virus following clinical trials conducted by state-owned Beijing Tiantan Biological, which specializes on the biopharmaceutical industry.
So far, the most recent global pandemic that hit humanity was the 2009 H1N1 swine flu outbreak, which infected million and killed more than 200,000.