Chinese scientists are warning of a new novel strain of bird flu, the H10N8 avian influenza virus, after the first known human infection resulted in the death of an elderly woman.
In their report of the death, published in The Lancet medical journal today, Chinese scientists said that it “further increases the importance of surveillance for pandemic preparedness and response”, adding that “ the pandemic potential of this novel virus should not be underestimated”. The new strain is a variant of a virus known as H10N8 that carries genes from H9N2 viruses, which scientists believe may have originated in wild birds, and later spread to poultry.
New Bird Flu Strain: Why the Concern?
So far only two people have been infected, with one of them dying within two days of falling ill. While these numbers don’t seem alarming, scientists say the genetic profile of this strain is very worrying and needs to be closely monitored.
This is the fifth novel influenza strain to emerge in the last 17 years, but this particular strain is causing a concern due to a mutation in its PB2 protein that, earlier research has found, suggests an ability to adapt to mammals. It also has a mutation in its haemagglutinin protein that enables it to latch onto other cells — something that can cause deep lung infections, like the H5N1 strain.
On top of the newly found H10N8 mutation, human cases of H7N9 bird flu infection have started popping up outside of China —in Taiwan and Hong Kong— causing Health officials around the world to quietly prepare for what some are calling the “perfect storm for a massive flu outbreak.”
According to Yahoo News, with billions of Chinese on the move to celebrate the Chinese New year, and hundreds of thousands of people making their way to Russia for the Winter Olympics, health officials worry that conditions are ripe for a massive outbreak.
It’s really only a matter of time…
At some point these viruses are going to mutate into a form that can be easily transmitted between humans, and when that happens I believe we’re going to see a pandemic like nothing this world has seen before.
Past pandemics, like the 1918 flu Pandemic that killed an estimated 50 million people, took months to spread. A pandemic outbreak in today’s world would likely travel much quicker, and could cause far more deaths than previous pandemics. With our world more connected than any time in history, the opportunity for a pandemic strain to spread is greater than it’s ever been.
How significant this new strain of the avian influenza virus will be isn’t yet known, but with so many flu mutations and emerging super bugs over the last decade scientists are warning that the potential for a deadly outbreak has never been greater. In fact, scientists last year warned that the two previous influenza virus strains were only one mutation away from being able to transmit from human-to-human.