The H7N9 avian flu virus that has infected 1,600 people and killed more than 600 in China since October 2016 could be “Disease X,” an unexpected pathogen that threatens to become a worldwide pandemic, the deputy chief medical officer for England warns.
“[H7N9] is an example of another virus which has proven its ability to transmit from birds to humans,” said Professor Jonathan Van-Tam.
“It’s possible that it could be the cause of the next pandemic.”
The World Health Organization in March included “Disease X” in its most recent global strategy and preparedness plan known as the 2018 R&D Blueprint. The name, “represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease, and so the R&D Blueprint explicitly seeks to enable cross-cutting R&D preparedness that is also relevant for an unknown “Disease X” as far as possible.”
Most of the people infected in China have been in close contact with poultry. The disease cannot spread from human to human, but has proven its ability to spread from birds to humans, says Van-Tam, and “experiments on animals have shown that it was just three mutations away from being able to do so,” according to the Telegraph. The strand was first identified in humans in 2013, per WHO.
“Influenza viruses constantly change and it is possible that this virus could gain the ability to spread easily and sustainably among people, triggering a global outbreak of disease,” says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It has the “greatest risk to severely impact public health if it were to achieve sustained human-to-human transmission”.