- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 18, 2013

After a new strand of bird flu previously unseen in humans killed 17 of the 87 people it has infected, Chinese officials are looking into the possibility of human-to-human transmission of the H7N9 strain.

The World Health Organization said some of those who have contracted the virus have had “no history of contact with poultry,” and the state-owned China Daily newspaper said a boy in Shanghai may have caught the disease from his brother, U.S. News reports.

“Further investigations are still under way to figure out whether the family cluster involved human-to-human transmission,” Feng Zijian, of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the paper.

SEE ALSO: Death toll from bird flu in China rises to 13

WHO spokesman Glenn Thomas told U.S. News that “it’s still too early to say” whether there have been human-to-human transmission.

“There’s no evidence yet of sustained human-to-human transmission, but the team will be looking into this,” he said.

Even if the disease can be spread between humans, a pandemic is not a certainty, experts say. In order to spread quickly, the virus would need to mutate to a form that is spread through incidental or casual contact. Transmission between family members is often a first step, because they generally have prolonged contact over the course of several days.

According to Zijian, though human-to-human transmission is possible, it does not likely mean it will lead to a pandemic, since it’s so sporadic.

“People don’t need to panic, because such limited human-to-human transmission won’t prompt a pandemic,” he said.