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Bird Flu Can be Passed Between Humans, Study Finds

Update Date: Aug 07, 2013 09:23 AM EDT

The avian flu, H7N9 that was circulating rapidly at around the beginning of the year through to the summer afflicted over 100 people within Mainland China. At the time, researchers and health officials stated that the transmission of the bird flu occurred when humans had direct contact with the infected birds. Based on the reports and data, the World Health Organization (WHO) also reiterated the fact that H7N9 did not appear to be capable of infecting people through human-to-human contact, lowering the likelihood that this virus would become a global threat. However, now new evidence suggests that there has been at least one case of human-to-human transfer of the bird flu.

"Our findings reinforce that the novel virus possesses the potential for pandemic spread," the authors wrote according to BBC News.

After studying a father and daughter case that dated back in March, a research team concluded that H7N9 could be transmissible between humans but only slightly. In March, a 60-year-old father was diagnosed with the bird flu. According to the health officials, he had contracted the virus while on a trip to a poultry market. When the man fell ill, his 32-year-old daughter had tended to his needs. Shortly after, she had contracted the avian flu despite never being in contact with birds. Both father and daughter died in the intensive care unit after suffering multiple organ failure.

In order to determine if the daughter indeed contracted the virus from her father, researchers from the Jiangsu Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention performed tests on the viruses from both victims. They discovered that the strains were very close to being genetically identical. The researchers then tested 43 other people who might have come into close contact with either of the infected patients. All of these people tested negative for H7N9, which suggested that the virus was barely contagious.

"It would be a worry if we start to see longer chains of transmission between people, when one person infects someone else, who in turn infects more people, and so on," Dr. James Rudge from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine stated. "And particularly if each infected case goes on to infect, an average of more than one other person, this would be a strong warning sign that we might be in the early stages of an epidemic."

Even though the scientists discovered this one case of human transmission, they could not conclude if it was the first case or one of several that went unnoticed. Regardless, based from the data from this situation, the researchers and other experts believe that H7N9 still does not have the capacity to become a global threat.

The report was published in the British Medical Journal.

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