Oct. 7 (UPI) — Scientists have identified the genetic mutations that allowed an avian flu strain to adapt to mammalian transmission, triggering an outbreak among European seals.
In 2014, an avian flu strain spread rapidly among harbor and gray seals in northern Europe, killing roughly a tenth of the population.
For the new study, published Wednesday in the journal Cell Host and Microbe, researchers exposed ferrets to different strains of H10N7, the virus subtype responsible for the 2014 seal flu outbreak.
Scientists found most avian flu strains failed to infect the ferrets, but that seal-adapted strains were successfully transmitted via the air from ferret to ferret.
The study suggests avian flu can regularly and repeatedly acquire mutations that make them more transmissible among mammals.
“Usually, these occasional introductions of avian influenza viruses in seals, like in humans, are ‘dead ends’ because the virus is not transmissible from one individual to