A 73-year-old woman from the city of Nanchang, in southeastern China, was hospitalized in November and succumbed to multiple-organ failure nine days later. According to a report in the The Lancet, tests later revealed it was the H10N8 strain of bird flu.
“A genetic analysis of the H10N8 virus shows a virus that is distinct from previously reported H10N8 viruses, having evolved some genetic characteristics that may allow it to replicate efficiently in humans,” said Shu Yuelong, a researcher from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing and an author of the recent report.
The woman had visited a poultry market prior to falling ill, but subsequent tests at the poultry market did not show any signs of the virus. The only other time the virus was detected was in 2007 when a water sample in the Hunan province tested positive for the virus.
Another woman in Nanchang fell ill last month, and after showing symptoms tested positive for H10N8. Researchers warn in the report that the "pandemic potential" of this strain should not be taken lightly.
China has so far seen 300 cases of the H7N9 virus, with no evidence to support sustained human-to-human transmission. A commentary published in the The Lancet regarding H10N8 asked for restraint before assuming that this new strain could lead to widespread transmission.
It said, "Does H10N8 pose a pandemic threat? The introduction of a new influenza A subtype into people is always a public health concern. However, pandemic viruses are characterized by high transmission. Sustained person-to-person transmission has not been reported with influenza A virus subtypes other than H1, H2, and H3 viruses, and so far H10 viruses are no exception."