Scientists have completed the first assessments of how readily the H7N9 flu virus in China can pass among ferrets and pigs. The mammals provide the best inkling of how dangerous these bugs may become for humans.
The news is both bad and good. They’ve found the new bird virus is easily passed between ferrets sharing the same cage.
"This is a more infectious virus — it has a higher intrinsic transmissibility [among mammals] — than most of the avian viruses we’ve seen in the past," Dr. Richard Webby, a study co-author, tells Shots.
But the saving grace, so far, is that H7N9 doesn’t travel very well through airborne secretions from sneezing and coughing. It requires direct, intimate contact for infection.
What about pigs — which often serve as incubators of flu strains that go on to cause big outbreaks in people?
Researchers have found that pigs can catch H7N9. But infected pigs don’t pass it on very well, either through direct contact with other pigs or through airborne secretions.