The ongoing H7N9 influenza epizootic in China once again presents us questions about the origin of pandemics and how to recognize them in early stages of development. Over the past ~135 years, H7 influenza viruses have neither caused pandemics nor been recognized as having undergone human adaptation. Yet several unusual properties of these viruses, including their poultry epizootic potential, mammalian adaptation, and atypical clinical syndromes in rarely infected humans, suggest that they may be different from other avian influenza viruses, thus questioning any assurance that the likelihood of human adaptation is low. At the same time, the H7N9 epizootic provides an opportunity to learn more about the mammalian/human adaptational capabilities of avian influenza viruses and challenges us to integrate virologic and public health research and surveillance at the animal-human interface.
Citation Morens DM, Taubenberger JK, Fauci AS. 2013. H7N9 Avian Influenza A Virus and the Perpetual Challenge of Potential Human Pandemicity. mBio 4(4):e00445-13. doi:10.1128/mBio.00445-13.