Health experts fear a pandemic after a new strain of bird flu killed a woman in China. The incident is the the first human casualty caused by the new influenza A H10N8 virus.
On Tuesday, Chinese researchers revealed that a 73-year-old woman died after contracting the H10N8 virus. So far, there have only been two cases of human infection and zero cases of human to human transmission, according to a Globe and Mail report. But scientists know those numbers can change quickly.
Scientists reported that the particular strain that killed the woman was a mutated one, meaning it could be evolving for easy human transmission. But they are debating whether this strain has the potential to become a pandemic. It’s difficult to predict what a virus will do.
China has already been grappling with a different flu strain known as H7N9. It has killed one-quarter of those infected, according to the BBC, with 300 cases and 63 deaths in China.
John McCauley, director of the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Center for Influenza, told the BBC that the new strain is not predictable, which is exactly why it must be watched carefully
“This case reminds us to be aware of human infections from animal influenza viruses, like the H7N9 cases in China which increase daily. Previously we did not think that H7N9 infections might be so lethal. Now we also must consider H10N8 infections as well.”
It might seem like there are suddenly more cases of influenza than before. But the reality is that China is now monitoring these virus outbreaks more carefully, so scientists are more aware of the different evolutionary strands that exist.