A group of 22 prominent influenza researchers have today (August 7) published a letter in both Natureand Science, stressing the need for a new wave of controversial studies on the H7N9 bird flu virus—so-called “gain-of-function” experiments that deliberately engineer mutant viruses to identify mutations that would make naturally occurring strains more transmissible or virulent in mammals.
This subtype of flu had no history of infecting humans until three cases were reported in China this March. Since then, H7N9 has infected at least 133 people and killed 43. Warmer summer weather and the recent closure of the country’s live bird markets have helped to contain the outbreak, but as colder months approach, researchers fear that the virus could re-emerge.
Seriously, if work is not done on this rather nasty virus – especially in view of potential human-to-human transmission, recently noted in Virology News – in parallel with similar work on H5N1, the scientific community will be missing the opportinity to make real headway in understanding how it is that influenza A viruses become more transmissible and virulent in humans.
See on www.the-scientist.com