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New bird flu infection warning

Thursday November 14th, 2013

The first case of human infection from a common bird flu virus has been discovered in Taiwan, it has been announced.

Scientists are unsure of the significance of the finding - which may provide clues about how viruses jump from poultry to humans.

The virus is the H6N1 virus and has been found in a woman of 20 who needed hospital treatment for flu in May.

H6N1 viruses have been known to be circulating in Taiwanese chickens for more than 40 years.

Researchers said they found a mutation - known as G228S - which enabled it to infect human cells.

Reporting in The Lancet, the researchers say it is mystery how the woman, who works in a delicatessen, got infected - and there as no sign of it in poultry bred near her home.

Dr Ho-Sheng Wu, from the Taiwanese Centres for Disease Control, said: "As these viruses continue to evolve and accumulate changes, they increase the potential risk of human infection. Further investigations are needed to clarify the potential threat posed by this emerging virus."

Writing in the journal, Dr Marion Koopmans, of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, the Netherlands, said it is not known what could lead to H6N1 viruses becoming pandemic.

She writes: "And an overriding question is if it is time to review our approaches to influenza surveillance at the human–animal interface? We surely can do better than to have human beings as sentinels."

* Meanwhile a project is being launched in the UK to track the spread of flu through schools, it was announced.

The project is being run by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, which runs an annual Flusurvey to monitor the effect of flu outbreaks.

Researcher Dr Alma Adler said: "Last year we found that taking public transport does not increase your risk of catching flu and we discovered that man flu didn't really exist – in fact women were slightly more likely to report feeling worse when they have flu than men.

"This year we're keen to find out more about children because they are the key spreaders of flu and the group who reported the most flu-like illness in last year's survey."

The Lancet 14 November 2014 [abstract]

Tags: Asia | Europe | Flu & Viruses

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