A virus called H7N7 has been discovered in chickens in China, according to a new study published in the journal Nature.
A team of Hong Kong researchers found the virus in about 25 percent of the fowl sampled, many of which also had the H7N9 virus. By testing the H7N7 virus on ferrets, the researchers found that it can be transmitted to mammals.
“If (we) let this H7N7 continue circulating in chickens, I am sure that human infection cases will occur,” study co-author Guan Yi at the University of Hong Kong told AFP. “This virus could cause more severe infection than … H7N9, based on our animal experiment.”
H7N7 appears to have developed alongside H7N9, which has killed 44 of more than 130 people infected in China.
“We think it is scary for humans,” Guan added. “Our entire human population almost has no antibodies against the H7 subtype of influenza virus. Thus, if it causes pandemic outbreak, it will kill many people.”
The scientists believe a better surveillance system is needed to monitor for dangerous viruses like H7N9 that may be emerging. “This is a very different influenza ecosystem from other countries,” Guan said, according to Nature.