Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute said on Thursday that avian influenza virus H7N9 does not have the ability to easily infect humans.
The virus killed dozens of people in China this year, but research based on the samples from the outbreak showed the virus is mainly adapted for birds and not humans.
"Because publications to date have implied that H7N9 has adapted to human receptors, we felt we should make a clear statement about this," James Paulson, the chair of TSRI's Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, said.
Results from the study were published in the Dec. 6 issue of Science.
Between February and May, 132 human cases of H7N9 were confirmed in China with 37 deaths. The outbreak caused concern among health officials, who began to study how the strain was capable of spreading. Studies showed the strain bonded more tightly with avian receptors than human receptors.
"These results suggest that we should continue to observe H7N9 and see if it undergoes any changes that make it more likely to spread in the human population," Ian Wilson, the Hansen Professor of Structural Biology and chair of the Department of Integrative Structural and Computational Biology at TSRI, said.
Paulson said if the strain does evolve a human-type receptor preference, the potential for a pandemic would increase.