Dr. Ron Fouchier
Dr. Ron Fouchier

There is a bit of disconcerting news from well-known virologist, Dr. Ron Fouchier regarding the H7N9 virus currently in China.  Dr. Fouchier may not be a household name but his research last year on the H5N1 bird-flu virus was one of the two studies that triggered the international debate about the release of that research data and a possible terrorist threat.  He was also named by Time Magazine as One of the Most Influential People of 2012.

In an article in Bloomberg News this morning, it was reported that the H7N9 virus currently circulating in China has some of the genetic hallmarks of an easily transmissible virus. Dr. Fouchier has reviewed the gene sequencing of H7N9 published by Chinese health authorities, which is a new virus formed as a result of two others merging their genetic material. It has features of viruses that are known to jump easily from birds to mammals and a mutation that may help it attach to cells in the respiratory tract.

Whether those mutations alone are enough to make the virus easily transmissible isn’t clear, and should be “high on the research agenda,” Fouchier said. Still, there’s no evidence yet that the virus is more likely to become more dangerous than H5N1, he said.

To curb the spread of H7N9, Shanghai officials have halted trading in live poultry, closed bird markets and slaughtered more than 20,000 birds. The outbreak, in which 16 people have been infected, caused soybean futures and airline stocks to fall yesterday on concern the virus may spark a pandemic.