The first case of human-to-human transmission of the new strain of bird flu in China has been reported.
Until now there had been no evidence of anyone catching the H7N9 virus other than after direct contact with birds. So far there have 133 cases of H7N9 bird flu reported in eastern China and 43 deaths. Most of the infected persons had visited live poultry markets or had close contact with live poultry in the week or two before they became ill.
In this case, a 32-year-old woman became infected in March after caring for her 60-year-old father in hospital. Unlike her father – who had visited a poultry market in the week before falling ill – she had no known exposure to live poultry but fell ill six days after her last contact with him. Both died in intensive care of multiple organ failure.
Tests on the virus taken from both patients showed the strains were almost genetically identical, which supports the theory that the daughter was infected directly from her father rather than another source.
The researchers said that while there was no evidence to suggest the virus had gained the ability to spread from person to person efficiently, this was the first case of a “probable transmission” from human to human.
Dr James Rudge, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that limited transmission between humans is not surprising as this has been documented before in other bird flu viruses, such as H5N1.
He added: “It would be a worry if we start to see longer chains of transmission between people, when one person infects someone else, who in turn infects more people, and so on.