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.
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.
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