Viruses and Bacteria: Bird Flu Virus Transmissible By Breath?

(Photo : REUTERS/Dmitry Neymyrok) Ferrets were used to determine if a particular strain of the bird flu virus was transmissible through air.

Similar to certain bacteria, a bird flu virus that has infected 132 people and killed 43 is capable of spreading from mammal to mammal throughout the air, a study finds.

A team of Chinese virologists published the study on Thursday in the journal Science. Their results indicate that one strain of the H7N9 virus, isolated from a human subject in eastern China's Anhui, was "transmissible" between two ferrets through breath. 

Researchers tested the ability of multiple strains by placing three healthy ferrets next to three infected ferrets in a cage. With a normal strain, only one of the healthy ferrets became infected with most strains. But with the particular Anhui strain, all three ferrets became infected, leading scientists to believe that the strain is transmissible through breath. 

The possibility of a respiratory-transmissible virus is life-threatening. According to the Wall Street Journal, deaths in China led officials to shut down markets and slaughter poultry in many Chinese cities in the fear of a national epidemic.

Although the team confirms that the strain is indeed transmissible, health authorities have not turned up with their own evidence regarding the H7N9 virus. Latter studies contradict the Chinese findings. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control replicated the experiment, finding that only two healthy ferrets got the virus. 

"The findings suggest that only a few amino acid changes would be needed to make the avian H7N9 viruses highly transmissible," the official Xinhua news agency quoted Ms. Chen as saying on Friday. 

The N7N9 virus has the capability to "replicate silently" since birds show no sign of having the virus. No other health authorities have confirmed the findings with evidence.

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