Assessment of Human-to-Human Transmissibility of Avian Influenza A(H7N9) Virus Across 5 Waves by Analyzing Clusters of Case Patients in Mainland China, 2013-2017.


The 2016-17 epidemic of human infections with avian influenza A(H7N9) virus was alarming, due to the surge in reported cases across a wide geographic area and the emergence of highly-pathogenic A(H7N9) viruses. Our study aimed to assess whether the human-to-human transmission risk of A(H7N9) virus has changed across the 5 waves since 2013.

Data on human cases and clusters of A(H7N9) virus infection were collected from the World Health Organization, open access national and provincial reports, informal online sources, and published literature. We compared the epidemiological characteristics of sporadic and cluster cases, estimated the relative risk (RR) of infection in blood relatives and non-blood relatives, and estimated the bounds on the effective reproductive number (Re) across waves from 2013 through September 2017.

The small cluster size and low Re suggest that human-to-human transmissibility of A(H7N9) virus has not changed over time and remains limited to date. Continuous assessment of A(H7N9) virus infections and human case clusters is of crucial importance for public health.

We identified 40 human clusters of A(H7N9) virus infection, with a median cluster size of 2 (range 2-3). The overall RR of infection in blood relatives versus non-blood relatives was 1.65 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.88, 3.09), and was not significantly different across waves (χ2 = 2.66, P = .617). The upper limit of Re for A(H7N9) virus was 0.12 (95% CI: 0.10, 0.14) and was not significantly different across waves (χ2 = 1.52, P = .822).

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