A new strain of bird flu, avian influenza A H10N8, has emerged in China and claimed its first victim.
The virus was responsible for the death of a 73-year-old woman in Nanchang, say Chinese scientists writing in the medical journal The Lancet.
The new strain is distinct from previously reported H10N8 viruses and appears to be able to replicate efficiently in humans.
Author Dr Yuelong Shu from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention says the strain was isolated from water in Dongting Lake in Hunan Province in 2007, and then detected at a live poultry market in Guangdong province in 2012.
The woman from Nanchang City presented to hospital with fever and severe pneumonia on November 30.
Despite antibiotic and antiviral treatment she deteriorated rapidly, developed multiple organ failure, and died nine days after disease onset.
Further investigation revealed the women had visited a live poultry market a few days prior to infection, suggesting the incubation time was about four days, similar to other avian influenza virus infections.
However, no H10N8 virus was found in samples collected from the poultry site the patient visited and the source of the infection remains unknown.
Co-author Dr Mingbin Liu from Nanchang City Center for Disease Control and Prevention says the pandemic potential should not be underestimated.
“A second case of H10N8 was identified in Jiangxi Province, China on January 26, 2014,” he says.
“This is of great concern because it reveals that the H10N8 virus has continued to circulate and may cause more human infections in future.”
Dr Linda Klavinskis, Senior Lecturer in Immunobiology at King’s College London, says the available data does not indicate evidence of human to human transmission of the virus.
“Based on this, the current H10N8 virus does not currently appear to be a major threat,” she says.
“The fatality was in a person who had many chronic illnesses … so it is possible it could be an accidental bird to human case.”
The Hong Kong government last week imposed a ban on the sale of live chickens following confirmation that a Guangdong supplier has tested positive for H7N9 bird flu which has killed dozens of people in China since last year.
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