Saturday, May 25, 2013

Evolving H7N9 bird flu could close poultry markets

Flu: there's good news and bad news. On the one hand, there have been no new human cases of H7N9 bird flu in China since 8 May. But we can't celebrate yet. Virologists report today that H7N9 spreads through the air between ferrets, just like the experimental H5N1 bird flu that caused an outcry in 2012. The outcry came after the virus was shown to be able to mutate to spread easily among us while remaining deadly. It now appears that H7N9 bird flu in China can already do that.

Meanwhile, New Scientist can reveal that China is considering closing live poultry markets permanently in an attempt to stop spread of the virus.

H7N9 flu has caused 131 known cases in humans, 32 of whom died, since it emerged in February this year. Tests continue to show that while the virus is a very rare infection of birds in live poultry markets, it is circulating and evolving. But the infection is so rare that those birds can't be passing the virus to enough other birds to keep it circulating. This means it must also be carried, less rarely, by some other animal – so far unknown.