Image credit: @doug88.
The deadly strain of the bird flu virus H7N9, which first infected humans in Shanghai during 2013, is entrenched in flocks of chickens and ducks in the south of China and mutating, posing an even greater threat to humanity, according to the largest-ever genomic survey of the virus.
In an article for Nature, author Guan Yi and colleagues at the University of Hong Kong warn that unless drastic measures are taken to eradicate the virus, it will continue to mutate. “H7N9 viruses have spread from eastern to southern China and become persistent in chickens,” they wrote. Given that the virus can infect humans, it “should be considered as a major candidate to emerge as a pandemic strain.”
The researchers claim that large swathes of China remain a reservoir and distribution center for the virus, adding that it was only “a matter of time before poultry movement spreads this virus beyond China by cross-border trade, as happened previously with N5H1 and N9H2 influenza viruses.” The report recommends the permanent closure of live poultry markets, central slaughtering and the implementation of systematic surveillance as measures to control the spread of the virus.
So far the virus does not infect people easily, and those infected are not very contagious to other humans, but influenza viruses change quickly and unpredictably. “The fact that this one is mutating and exchanging genetic material is worrying,” Guan and colleagues said.
Previously on Shanghaiist:
China confirms 100 human infections with H7N9 in 2015
N7N9 may be ‘confined to Chinese’ due to special gene
Idiot PLA colonel thinks H7N9 is an American ‘bio-psychological weapon
By Dominic Jackson
[Image via Nature]