Zoonotic avian influenza A virus (IAV) infections are rare. Sustained transmission of these IAVs between humans has not been observed, suggesting a role for host genes. We used whole-genome sequencing to compare avian IAV H7N9 patients with healthy controls and observed a strong association between H7N9 infection and rare, heterozygous single-nucleotide variants in the MX1 gene. MX1 codes for myxovirus resistance protein A (MxA), an interferon-induced antiviral guanosine triphosphatase known to control IAV infections in transgenic mice. Most of the MxA variants identified lost the ability to inhibit avian IAVs, including H7N9, in transfected human cell lines. Nearly all of the inactive MxA variants exerted a dominant-negative effect on the antiviral function of wild-type MxA, suggesting an MxA null phenotype in heterozygous carriers. Our study provides genetic evidence for a crucial role of the MX1-based antiviral defense in controlling zoonotic IAV infections in humans.