Baltimore, MD September 18, 2013 Scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine's Center for Vaccine Development are part of nationwide vaccine research aimed at protecting adults from a new and virulent strain of avian (bird) influenza (flu) virus. The virus, called H7N9 influenza virus, emerged in China last spring. As of mid-August, 135 confirmed human cases, including 44 deaths, have been reported by the World Health Organization. The study, sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will help prepare for the possibility of a global pandemic.
This bird flu virus, first seen in people who came in contact with poultry, has not been reported outside of China and is not easily transmitted from person to person. Nevertheless, changes in the virus may already be underway that could lead to a global H7N9 pandemic, according to the University of Maryland's co-principal investigator, James D. Campbell, M.D., M.S., who says, "There's genetic evidence this virus is mutating toward the possibility of sustained human-to-human transmission."
This is a strain of influenza that has not been seen previously in humans. "Immunity is not built up the way it is with most human-type flu viruses circulating around the globe. More people get sick, and get sicker than usual with new viruses," says Dr. Campbell, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and infectious disease specialist. "This one is totally different from any previous flu virus we know, at least from the early 1900s."
The strength of this strain is another cause for alarm. "If H7N9 stays that pathogenic, but then becomes transmissible, it has the potential to cause a bigger impact than typical seasonal flu," says Dr. Campbell.
The study's principal investigator, Karen L. Kotloff, M.D., says "It's impossible to know with any certainty wheth
|Contact: Bill Seiler|
University of Maryland Medical Center