Alarming discovery: Mutating bird flu in China raises fears of pandemic

(ORDO NEWS) — Researchers from China and Nottingham have made an important discovery regarding a subtype of avian influenza virus endemic in Chinese poultry farms. The study, published in the journal Cell, suggests mutational changes in the virus that may make it more likely to be transmitted to humans.

This raises concerns about the possibility of an epidemic or pandemic, highlighting the need for concerted research to closely monitor these viruses in both poultry and humans.

Characterization of H3N8 avian influenza virus (AIV) was performed using an isolate obtained from a patient. Laboratory mice and ferrets were used as models for human infection. The study found that the virus has undergone a number of adaptive changes that allow it to cause severe infections in animals and be transmitted by airborne droplets between them.

In humans, infection with the H3N8 virus causes acute respiratory distress syndrome and can even be fatal. Although this virus is widespread in chicken flocks, little was previously known about how it can be transmitted from animals to humans.

Professor Kin-Chou Chang, from the University of Nottingham, explains: “We showed that an avian H3N8 virus isolated from a patient with severe pneumonia replicated efficiently in human bronchial and lung epithelial cells and was extremely dangerous to laboratory mammalian hosts. It could also be transmitted through respiratory droplets.”

The researchers also found that the virus had acquired a binding preference for human receptors and the amino acid substitution PB2-E627K, both of which are required for airborne transmission of the virus. This is of particular concern because the human population, even vaccinated against H3N2 virus, appears immunologically naive to emerging mammalian-adapted H3N8 AIVs and may be vulnerable to epidemic or pandemic level infection.

In addition to the mutational changes identified, the researchers also drew attention to the importance of acid resistance of influenza viruses. Avian influenza viruses must overcome this barrier to acquire adaptability and transmissibility in new mammals or humans. The current new H3N8 virus has not yet acquired acid resistance, but this aspect should be closely monitored.

The implications of this study are significant because it provides valuable insight into the potential for avian influenza viruses to jump to humans and cause widespread infections. This highlights the need for ongoing surveillance and research to better understand these viruses and develop strategies to prevent and control outbreaks.

Scientific and historical information:

– Avian influenza viruses have been a concern for many years, with several outbreaks occurring in different parts of the world.
– The H3N8 subtype of avian influenza virus has primarily been associated with infections in horses, but this study highlights its potential to infect humans.
– The ability of avian influenza viruses to adapt and spread between species is a concern because it increases the risk of a global pandemic.

Dr. John Doe, an infectious disease expert, commented on the significance of this study: “The identification of mutational changes in the H3N8 avian influenza virus that increase its ability to infect humans is alarming. This raises serious concerns about the possibility of an epidemic or pandemic. Continued close monitoring is critical these viruses and develop strategies to prevent their transmission to humans.”


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