12 April 2013 - On 31 March the Chinese authorities announced the identification in humans of a new strain of avian influenza virus: A(H7N9). While other H7 viruses have been widely reported around the globe in domestic and wild birds, the recent event in China represents the first time this A(H7N9) virus has been reported in humans and poultry. No human-to-human transmission has yet been confirmed. FAO is working intensively through an incident team based in the FAO China office and thematic expert teams at headquarters. The focus is on better understanding this new virus, how to detect it and what level of threat it could pose to animal populations.
Unlike highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1, the avian influenza A(H7N9) virus causes little to no signs of disease in infected birds. This makes it that much harder to find via surveillance in animals. In order to help veterinary services worldwide better detect the new virus, expert teams from the EMPRES – Animal Health Programme are in daily contact with Chinese authorities and world experts to review, organize and analyse available information. Thanks to the transparency of the Chinese authorities and the excellent communication lines between China and the scientific community, experts have been able to analyse the viral genome that China made public on 31 March 2013.
“The strain is a triple reassortant H7N9 influenza virus, with components from H7Nx, H11N9, and H9N2 all of avian origin,” said Vincent Martin, Head of FAO’s EMPRES Animal Health. “With this information we’re reviewing and updating existing laboratory protocols to help veterinary diagnosticians worldwide test for the virus more effectively as part of larger surveillance efforts. In addition, FAO and its reference centres are studying the ecology of the influenza A(H7N9) virus in order to analyse the associated risk of virus spread.”
Detecting the virus via surveillance is key to understanding where it is circulating. But to protect animals and people, FAO is also reinforcing its long-sustained call for good biosecurity measures. These practices help reduce introduction and spread of most viruses. Examples of good biosecurity include:
- Keeping birds and livestock separate from people's living areas.
- Keeping different types of birds and animal species apart via screens, fencing or nets
- Reporting sick or dead animals to the local veterinary authorities;
- Washing your hands often to kill and remove pathogens
- Ensuring meat products are well-cooked before consumption.
- Avoiding consumption and sale of sick or dead animals.
FAO is working with multiple partners, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), to fact check information and collate the most pertinent data for the veterinary authorities, laboratories, research institutions and the general public.