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article imageBird flu is poorly adapted at infecting humans

By Tim Sandle     Dec 15, 2013 in Science
Avian influenza virus H7N9, which killed several dozen people in China earlier in 2013, has not yet acquired the genetic changes necessary to infect people easily.
The new findings contrast to some other studies that suggest that H7N9 poses an imminent risk of a global pandemic. H7N9 flu viruses infect birds, causing no observable symptoms. Until 2013 these strains had never been reported in humans.
H7N9 is a bird flu strain of the species Influenza virus A (avian influenza virus or bird flu virus). Avian influenza A H7 viruses normally circulate among avian populations with some variants known to occasionally infect humans. An H7N9 virus was first reported to have infected humans in 2013 in China. Most of the reported cases of human infection have resulted in severe respiratory illness.
The research was conducted using samples of the virus and human cells. Here scientists tested the ability of the virus's hemagglutinin (HA) protein, to bind to different human and avian receptor variants. What they found was that the virus is poor at binding to human cells.
The results do not mean, however, that the virus cannot evolve. The researchers note that scientists should continue to observe H7N9 and see if it undergoes any changes that make it more likely to spread in the human population.
The new research has been published by The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), in a study led by Ian A. Wilson, the Hansen Professor of Structural Biology and chair of the Department of Integrative Structural and Computational Biology at TSRI. The findings have been published in the magazine Science, in an article titled “Preferential Recognition of Avian-Like Receptors in Human Influenza A H7N9 Viruses”.
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