The emergence of a novel H7N9 avian influenza virus in humans in China has raised questions about its pandemic potential as well as that of related influenza viruses. In a commentary published online today, scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, address these questions by evaluating past outbreaks of H7 subtype influenza viruses among mammals and birds and comparing H7 viruses with other avian influenza viruses and strains.
In recent decades, the scientists write, avian H7 viruses have caused numerous influenza outbreaks among poultry in Europe and North America. Since at least 1918, none of these poultry-adapted viruses has evolved to widely infect humans or cause a pandemic. However, some of them have stably adapted to infect mammals such as horses, suggesting that these viruses might become adapted to and transmissible among other mammals, including humans. In particular, the novel H7N9 virus shares some genes with the H9N2 influenza virus subtype, which has also infected humans. This genetic relatedness may predispose it to more easily adapt to humans than other H7 viruses.
The possibility that H7N9 or another H7 virus may adapt to easily infect humans highlights a need for more research on how avian influenza strains adapt to mammals, especially humans, and better integration of influenza research between human and veterinary public health specialists, the study authors conclude.
Morens DM et al. H7N9 avian influenza and the perpetual challenge of potential human pandemicity. mBio DOI: 10.1128/mBio.00445-13 (2013).
Study authors Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., NIAID director; David M. Morens, M.D., senior advisor to the NIAID director; and Jeffery K. Taubenberger, M.D., Ph.D., section chief in NIAID's Laboratory of Infectious Diseases are available to discuss the article.
To schedule interviews, please contact Nalini Padmanabhan, (301) 402-1663, email@example.com.
NIAID conducts and supports research—at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide—to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses. News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at http://www.niaid.nih.gov.
About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov/.
NIH...Turning Discovery Into Health®
AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert! system.