Science

Bird Flu contagious among ferrets, maybe humans too

By Hilda Scott , May 25, 2013 10:02 AM EDT
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Chinese and American researchers are steadily investigating the new strain of H7N9 bird flu that infected 131 people in China, killing 36 people so far. The World Health Organization (WHO) said there was no evidence of human to human transmission of the virus, but a new research suggests otherwise.

Mammals were found to be capable of transferring the disease to each other and it may be possible that humans may also spread the disease among each other. Transmission of the virus is not limited to direct contact between mammals, it's also airborne.

A briefing was held Friday to discuss findings from the new study led by bird flu expert and microbiologist, Yi Guan and published Thursday in the journal, Science. Information from the study said that three healthy ferrets became infected with the H7N9 bird flu when placed in the same cage as ferrets that were already infected with the disease. Researchers also said that one of the ferrets that that had been kept in a separate cage nearby also contracted the bird flu from airborne exposure.

"The findings suggest that the possibility of this virus evolving further to form the basis of a future pandemic threat cannot be excluded," the study said.  

Researchers also found that some of the animals didn't show signs of illness, which may suggest that humans when infected may not develop a fever or any other symptoms. As Reuters reported, the bird flu symptoms in the lab ferrets were mild and lasted up to seven days before the ferrets fully recovered. The researchers pointed out that in all the human bird flu cases where the person either died or became violently ill were attributed to additional factors.

One person in Taiwan became infected with the bird flu virus after a brief stay in China. The 53-year-old man recovered after receiving 35 days of treatment in the hospital. He was the first reported case of bird flu in Taiwan.

Chinese health officials said a poultry market was the source of the infection. In April, poultry markets in China were shut down and thousands of chickens were destroyed. No new cases of bird flu have been detected since early May.

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