Epidemiology and Infection

Review Article


Prevalence and control of H7 avian influenza viruses in birds and humans


a1 Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut, Federal Research Institute for Animal Health, Institute of Molecular Biology, Greifswald – Insel Riems, Germany


The H7 subtype HA gene has been found in combination with all nine NA subtype genes. Most exhibit low pathogenicity and only rarely high pathogenicity in poultry (and humans). During the past few years infections of poultry and humans with H7 subtypes have increased markedly. This review summarizes the emergence of avian influenza virus H7 subtypes in birds and humans, and the possibilities of its control in poultry. All H7Nx combinations were reported from wild birds, the natural reservoir of the virus. Geographically, the most prevalent subtype is H7N7, which is endemic in wild birds in Europe and was frequently reported in domestic poultry, whereas subtype H7N3 is mostly isolated from the Americas. In humans, mild to fatal infections were caused by subtypes H7N2, H7N3, H7N7 and H7N9. While infections of humans have been associated mostly with exposure to domestic poultry, infections of poultry have been linked to wild birds or live-bird markets. Generally, depopulation of infected poultry was the main control tool; however, inactivated vaccines were also used. In contrast to recent cases caused by subtype H7N9, human infections were usually self-limiting and rarely required antiviral medication. Close genetic and antigenic relatedness of H7 viruses of different origins may be helpful in development of universal vaccines and diagnostics for both animals and humans. Due to the wide spread of H7 viruses and their zoonotic importance more research is required to better understand the epidemiology, pathobiology and virulence determinants of these viruses and to develop improved control tools.

(Received September 01 2011)

(Revised November 21 2013)

(Accepted December 04 2013)

(Online publication January 15 2014)

Key words

  • Avian influenza virus;
  • control;
  • epidemiology;
  • pandemic;
  • poultry;
  • subtype H7;
  • vaccination;
  • wild birds;
  • zoonotic


c1 Author for correspondence: Dr E. M. Abdelwhab, Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut, Südufer 10, 17493 Greifswald-Insel Riems, Germany. (Email: sayed.abdel-whab@fli.bund.de)