For the third time this year a new strain of bird flu virus has been found to infect people.
The flu virus, H10N8, killed a 73-year-old woman from the Jiangxi province in China, on Dec. 6. She had been admitted to the hospital on Nov. 30 with severe pneumonia. None of the people she had been in contact with were sickened, authorities reported.
She had recently visited a live poultry market, which is probably where she got the virus. Researchers writing in the Journal of Virology in 2012 found the virus in these live poultry markets, and before that a 2011 study in Virology Journal found it in wild birds.
Despite this being the third time this year that these bird viruses have jumped to humans, this is actually a rare event.
This could be because the Chinese government has increased surveillance for avian flu infections after the arrival of H7N9, according to the Centres for Infectious Disease Research And Policy at the University of Minnesota. That means authorities are more likely to test for and report infections with these viruses.
We probably usually missed these infections before, only realising a new virus had jumped to humans when it reached a larger scale. Science journalist Alan Dove wrote on Twitter: “People have probably been dying of sporadic bird flu spillovers for eons, but we only noticed the ones that became pandemics.”
Though it might result in some scare-tactics from the media, watching and monitoring these small outbreaks isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We can now watch these infections before they kill hundreds of people, and track if they are getting worse.
This keeps happening in China, though, probably because of the live poultry markets found in cities. Flu viruses are found in all different kinds of birds, and there is only one flu virus that doesn’t infect birds.
Another new bird flu, of the strain H6N1 also infected a human for the first time this year. That person made a full recovery after a stint in the hospital, and doesn’t seem to have infected others, and no other people have shown up infected with the virus.
A much bigger deal is the H7N9 bird flu that emerged in April. It was also infecting humans for the first time, and more than 140 cases were caught in hospitals. While there was a lull in infections of the virus, there have been two new cases in the last two days. Hong Kong also reported two cases in early December.
It is still circulating in the population and that’s worrying, because it could return with a vengeance when China’s flu season comes back. Researchers worry that a few quick mutations could make the virus pass easily between people, increasing it’s devastation exponentially.
That virus is especially worrisome because it seems to be exceptionally deadly. It has killed 45 of the 142 people infected with the virus.
The original bird flu virus, H5N1 is also still circulating in the country and other areas of Asia, where it’s sickened many people in Cambodia and Indonesia, according to the WHO. As is the swine flu H1N, the “normal” human flu H2N3, and select strains of Influenza B, a related virus.
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