Researchers at Pirbright investigate the emergence of new bird flu viruses with the potential to infect people

Pirbright scientists have discovered that infection with two strains of avian flu can lead to the emergence of a new virus strain with the potential to jump from birds to humans.

Human cases of avian influenza are extremely rare but can occur if a person comes into very close contact with an infected or dead bird.

The study shows that avian influenza virus strains H9N2 and H7N9 can share genetic information to create an H9N9 strain with the potential to cause more severe disease in poultry and pose a threat to human health.

Avian influenza, also known as ‘bird flu’, is a type of influenza that spreads among birds. The UK faces a seasonal increase in the risk of avian influenza outbreaks which are associated with the migration patterns of wild birds.

Avian influenza is found across the globe, and in countries where multiple strains circulate it is important to monitor the emergence of new strains. Low virulence H9N2 and H7N9 circulate in poultry in Asia but do not cause severe disease. However, they are known to swap genetic information which can result in the emergence of an H9N9 strain, which can cause severe disease.

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