A mutated version of the bird flu virus, named H10N8, has proved fatal for a 73-year-old woman in China, who died on Dec. 6, 2013. This is the strain’s first human fatality.
The woman was admitted to the hospital on Nov. 30, 2013. She died nine days after showing symptoms and developing multiple organ failure. Previous to the onset of the flu virus, the woman already carried an array of health issues including: coronary artery disease, myasenthia gravis, a neuromuscular disorder; and high blood pressure.
Four days prior to the onset of her illness, she had visited a live poultry market. It cannot be confirmed that this was the cause of her fatal H10N8 strain because the identical strain was not actually found in the market that she had visited. She had also stayed at the market for only a few minutes without ever handling the poultry. Her full genome sequencing did indicate that all the genes of the virus were of avian origin.
The Lancet study on the H10N8 virus released on Wednesday said that the poultry’s pathogens could be at such a low level that it allows the H10N8 virus to travel without being detected.
Since the H10N8 bird flu virus has claimed its first victim, experts are calling for the strain to be tracked in flu patients, as well as at poultry markets, because there is a chance that more human cases may occur.
In fact, the bird flu infection was found in another woman on Jan. 26, 2014, in Nanchang City, China; the same city where the fatality occurred. The 55-year-old woman is still being treated.
The strain was originally found in the Hunan Province in 2007 and again was seen in 2012 at a live poultry market in the Guangdong Province. The two cases in Nanchang City are the first human appearances of the N8 subtype.
Investigators said that there is no evidence that it is being passed through human-to-human contact, which is a good sign. Nonetheless, according to the Lancet study, “a previous study indicated that H10N8 virus [could] replicate efficiently in mouse lung without previous adaptation.” The ability for the virus to transfer between other mammals, as well as the human infections from other avian flu strains concerns the Lancet contributors.
The main fear is that if the strain does acquire the ability to move from person to person, this could greatly increase the magnitude of the virus.
If the virus does manage to spread, it may not happen overnight. In other avian strains, like the H5N1 virus, a span of six months occurred between the original case in a person and the following 17 human cases. The Lancet contributors want people to remain cautious.
The Lancet authors said not to underestimate the “pandemic potential” of this new strain of the avian flu.
The H10N8 bird flu virus has already claimed its first victim and the Lancet urges the public not to be complacent. Instead, they urge the importance of monitoring the unique strain for the purposes of “pandemic preparedness” and for the ability to respond quickly if an outbreak were to occur.
By Rebecca Hofland