Posted on by Dr. Francis Collins
The latest flu virus causing concern, H7N9, arose in birds in Eastern China a few months ago—so far infecting more than 100 people, with a high death rate . To gauge the pandemic potential of this new avian virus, a team of Chinese and NIH-funded American researchers isolated the virus from a patient in China and used it to infect ferrets .
Yes, you read that right: ferrets! It turns out that ferret airways have biological similarity to humans, and so they are traditionally used as an indicator of whether humans are susceptible to a particular flu virus and whether transmission can occurs through the air (breathing, coughing, or sneezing) or requires direct contact.