H7N9 Raises Major Concerns About Transmission Between Species

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BIRD-FLU-PIC-520x444A strain of avian influenza named H7N9 is causing serious concerns in scientists and physicians, worldwide, as it’s already killed 37 people and sickened 132 more in China this year alone. And a look at the way the virus’s cell biology works is causing anxiety levels to rise even more, as it appears that it can easily be transferred between species.

Until now, H5N1 was the bird flu everyone had been worried about. But H7N9 is proving to be the real threat, with the potential to spread across the globe much faster than H5N1. That’s because the new avian flu clings to the sugars that coat bird and human cells. This gives the virus the ability to leap back and forth between birds and people with relative ease.

What’s more, cell biologists have discovered that H7N9 flourishes in lung cells, in particular. That’s why patients who have been diagnosed often develop a very severe form of pneumonia. Scientists are still researching the virus’s ability to latch onto the trachea. The ability for viral cells to cling to places like a person’s windpipe will affect how easily the flu spreads from person to person, via sneezing and coughing.

Perhaps most worrisome of all is that even those people who received flu shots in 2012 and 2013 are lacking the antibodies needed to fight off the H7N9 influenza. That means that the vast majority of the population is susceptible to catching the virus, if exposed.

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