A recent paper, published in the British Medical Journal exposes the first example of the H7N9 virus – better known as the “Bird Flu” virus – being transmitted from one human to another. Until now, the H7N9 virus had only been transmitted to humans from birds. A Chinese man exposed the deadly disease to his daughter; both subjects perished from the H7N9 virus.
The research team behind the investigation is clearly concerned by their discovery. Peter Openshaw, Director of the Centre for Respiratory Infection in London said, “There is great cause for concern in that this is such a lethal form of influenza, we've hardly seen anything more lethal."
Bird Flu has primarily affected Chinese citizens, where the local animals are more like to have the disease. However, this proof that H7N9 can and has been transmitted from human to human opens the door for a bird-flu outbreak.
Bird Flu is characterized by symptoms including pneumonia, fever, and respiratory failure; the H7N9 version of Bird Flu has already killed 43 people this year. The father mentioned in the paper contacted Bird Flu after visiting an infected poultry farm and eating quail carrying the disease. The infected daughter had no exposure to the birds, and yet she also contacted the same strain of H7N9 virus.
The key to the daughter’s ability to contact her father’s virus was the genetic similarity between the two. The paper states that only blood-related humans may currently infect each other.
Openshaw knows that this new investigation needs to be followed up upon. He said, “We need to show how much variations in the virus contribute, and how much variations in the human host contribute."
Further research will need to take place before all the facts regarding the H7N9 virus, and how easily it can affect others, is known.
Until then, wash your hands, people: Flu season is coming.