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Study Finds H7N9 Can Spread Between Ferrets

Update Date: May 24, 2013 11:14 AM EDT

The H7N9 flu virus circulating in China has been the subject of several research studies.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the virus has already affected 131 people with 36 fatalities as of May 17 within China. Scientists have monitored the progression and any possible mutations in the virus in order to prevent any pandemics from occurring. In a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Hong Kong, they found that H7N9 strain could be transferred between ferrets via the air. Although the virus was found to have the potential to be airborne, the researchers are not worried that the virus would travel between humans.

In this study, the researchers infected six ferrets with the H7N9 virus. The ferrets were placed in a cage with other uninfected ferrets. Another cage of only uninfected ferrets was placed nearby. The researchers used ferrets because this animal has been discovered to be one of the better animal models for studying how the flu could spread in humans. The researchers found that the uninfected ferrets living in the same cage as the infected ferrets all become infected with H7N9. This finding suggests that there was limited air transfer of the virus when the animals were in close contact. In the cage nearby, one out of the three uninfected ferrets became infected.

The researchers concluded that H7N9 has the potential to be transferred between humans if they are extremely close to one another. This limited pathway means that the virus is not currently able to cause a widespread pandemic. The researchers believe that it is safe to say that the virus will not spread between humans at a rapid pace. There have been no cases of human flu transmission so far with 75 percent of the cases linked to direct contact with infected poultry. The researchers also found that H7N9 did not travel between pigs.

The study was published in the journal, Science.

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