H10N8: should we be worried about new bird flu strain?

Feb 5, 2014

Chinese scientists warn of pandemic after elderly woman died and another infected with H10N8 strain of bird flu

SCIENTISTS in China have warned of a potential pandemic after a new strain of bird flu – H10N8 – killed an elderly woman and infected another woman last month. Reporting in The Lancet, the scientists say the virus has a worrying genetic profile and should be closely monitored. So, should we be worried?

What is bird flu?

It's is a type of influenza virus that does not usually infect humans. However, certain strains have mutated and gained this ability. Recently, there have been human cases of other bird flu strains – H7N9 and H5N1.

What are the symptoms of H10N8?

The 73-year old woman, from Nanchang in China, is the first person known to have died from the new strain. She developed a fever, cough and a tight chest in late November last year, and was admitted to hospital. Despite treatment with antibiotics and anti-virals, she developed severe pneumonia, many of her organs began to fail and she died on 9 December. Late last month, another case of H10N8 was reported in a 55-year old woman, also living in Nanchang. She is in a stable condition.

How does it spread?

Bird flu is spread through direct contact with infected birds, their droppings or secretions from their eyes or mouth. Both women infected with the virus in China had visited poultry markets and scientists say the birds are likely to be the source. Experts are worried that H10N8 may have features that would enable it to spread from human to human, but so far there is no evidence that it can. There are also concerns that the virus could evolve or mutate to become more infectious.

Should we be worried?

The new strain does not appear to pose a huge concern in its current form. As yet, there have only been two cases and the woman who died was said to have other medical conditions that may have made her frail and susceptible to the infection. Nevertheless, Dr Jeremy Farrar, of the Wellcome Trust, has told the Daily Telegraph we should always be worried when a virus jump from birds to people as it is unlikely that we will have prior immunity to protect ourselves. H7N9, which emerged last year, led to 159 human infections in China, including 71 deaths, while H5N1, which first occurred among humans in Hong Kong in 1997, has caused 648 infections with 384 deaths since 2003.

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