Press Releases

Joint Influenza Research Centre reports potential direct transmission of duck influenza to humans

22 June 2003


Sponsored by the Li Ka-shing Foundation, the Joint Influenza Research Centre, a collaboration between Shantou University Medical College and the University of Hong Kong, has reported that it is possible for the duck influenza strain to leap directly to humans.

The results of the JIRC research was recently published in the Journal of Virology, and the authoritative science journal Nature also reported this important finding.

According to the JIRC, there have been four major influenza pandemics in the 20th century. Genetic investigations revealed that these pandemic strains were derived partially or entirely from the viruses of avian origin. Poultry carry a host of influenza viruses that with relatively simple changes in their genetic sequences can transmit directly to humans.

Prior genetic studies indicated that pigs were the most likely “mixing vessels” for pandemic influenza viruses which can recombine to produce a strain that can infect humans.

The investigative team at the JIRC found that the H9N2 influenza viruses established in terrestrial poultry are transmitted back and forth between chickens and ducks, generating multiple reassortments. These novel H9N2 viruses can bypass the “mixing vessel” and jump directly to humans.

These viruses pose a threat because human beings have no natural immunity to these animal flu viruses, creating the potential for further human-to-human transmission.

Professor Li K.S., Director of the JIRC, said that the results of their investigation have attracted the attention of virologists worldwide. The report by Nature journal also confirms that the Center’s virology research has reached an international level.

Professor Li said, “The breakthrough achieved has far-reaching implications for pandemic influenza and other types of influenza.”

Professor Li is also Director of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology Research at Shantou University Medical College, and has been engaged in this area of research at Shantou University since 1990.

The JIRC was established in November 2001 to strength scientific collaborations and to enhance mainland China’s surveillance and prevention of influenza pandemics with worldwide implications.

This study was supported by the World Health Organization, the National Natural Science Fund, and the Wellcome Trust grant.

For further information, please visit the web sites of the Journal of Virology

or Nature journal

22 June 2003