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Transmission of emerging H7N9 virus

By 20 July 2013, there had been 134 laboratory-confirmed human cases of infection with avian influenza A H7N9 virus infection, including 43 deaths.

Yoshihiro Kawaoka and colleagues characterize the biology of two recent isolates of the virus. They provide a wealth of data from infections in mice, pigs, macaques and ferrets. H7N9 virus is shown to be less sensitive to neuraminidase inhibitors than pandemic H1N1 virus, but equally susceptible to an experimental polymerase inhibitor. Terrence Tumpey and colleagues determine the capacity of two clinical H7N9 isolates to cause disease and transmit between mammals. They show that the virus can replicate in human airway cells and in the respiratory tract of ferrets to a higher level than can seasonal H3N2 virus, and show higher lethality in mice than genetically related H7N9 and H9N2 viruses. In transmission studies, the H7N9 virus showed limited transmission in ferrets by respiratory droplets. Ron Fouchier and colleagues investigate the transmissibility of H7N9 virus between ferrets. They show that airborne transmission can occur, but inefficiently. They also show that on passage in ferrets, virus variants that have higher avian receptor binding, higher pH of fusion and lower thermostability are selected, and they suggest that these characteristics may result in reduced transmissibility.

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