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Avian flu 'passed between humans'

09 August 2013 09:03

Avian flu may have been transmitted between people for the first time, scientists say

Avian flu may have been transmitted between people for the first time, scientists say

A father is believed to have passed a lethal strain of avian flu on to his daughter, in a case the first of its kind.

According to research published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), the 32-year-old daughter from China became infected with the avian influenza A (H7N9) virus after taking care of her ill father in hospital.

Both later died due to multiple organ failure.

The man, 60, is believed to have contracted the illness after regularly visiting a live poultry market, becoming ill with a fever, cough and shortness of breath around a week after his last visit.

His daughter, who is not thought to have been in the presence of live poultry before being admitted to intensive care, developed symptoms around six days after her last contact with her father.

Further investigations showed almost genetically identical virus strains in each patient. But of another 43 people who had close contact with the pair, no one showed signs of severe illness.

Experts from the Jiangsu Provincial Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and the Wuxi Municipal Centre for Disease Control and Prevention believe the case provides strong backing to the theory that H7N9 can be passed between humans, but they point out its ability to transmit itself is "limited and non-sustainable".

This particular strain of avian flu was first detected in China in February, with a total of 133 cases reported up to the end of June. The case highlights the need for medical travel insurance for anyone expecting to travel abroad.

Dr Peter Horby, senior clinical research fellow at the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Hanoi, Vietnam, said: "The most likely source of infection for the daughter was her father, during the period that she cared from him whilst he was ill."

He said other strains of the virus - H5N1, H7N7 and the swine origin flu virus H3N2v - have been present for more than 10 years, but "have not progressed any further down the path towards a pandemic virus".

He added: "Limited human-to-human transmission of H7N9 virus is therefore not surprising, and, like H5N1, H7N7, and H3N2v, does not necessarily represent the early stages of a trajectory towards full adaptation to humans."