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The next wave of bird flu could be worse than ever

Test finds mutated strain of H7N9 can pass between lab animals through the air

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2:33pm, October 19, 2017
market in Dongguan, China

POULTRY PROBLEMS  So far, most cases of human H7N9 infection have come from exposure to birds, often in live poultry markets. Here, epidemiologists collect samples at a market in Dongguan, China, in 2014.

A new version of the H7N9 avian influenza virus might be able to cause widespread infection and should be closely monitored, scientists say, although it currently doesn’t spread easily between people.

Researchers isolated the virus from a fatal human case and tested it and two genetically modified versions in ferrets, which are susceptible to both human and bird flu viruses. The tested viruses can spread to other ferrets through airborne fluid droplets like those released by a cough or a sneeze, sometimes turning deadly, researchers report October 19 in Cell Host and Microbe.

“This is an extremely well-done study,” says John Lednicky, a virologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville who wasn’t part of the research. It links the behavior of the virus to its genetics — a key to understanding what makes a given virus dangerous and to

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