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Deadly New Bird Flu Strain Spawned by Virus Behind H5N1

Chickens in Shenzhen
Chickens sit in a cage at the Shekou wet market in Shenzhen on Dec. 19, 2013. Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

The new bird flu that’s infected two people in China, killing one, was spawned by the same pathogen that produced two other deadly flu strains, a study found.

The H10N8 strain, which hasn’t previously been reported in humans, contains six out of eight genes from the H9N2 virus that also provided the genetic foundation for the H5N1 virus that’s killed 386 people since 2003, and the H7N9 strain that led to at least 70 fatalities, Chinese researchers wrote in The Lancet medical journal today.

The new virus killed a 73-year-old woman in the southeastern city of Nanchang in December, and a second case was identified last week in a 55-year-old person in the same province. H10N8 contains a mutation that helps it adapt to mammals, and may enable the virus to become more infectious, the researchers, led by Yuelong Shu at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote.

“The pandemic potential of this novel virus should not be underestimated,” Shu and colleagues wrote. “Although we cannot predict whether an H10N8 epidemic will occur, our findings suggest that the virus is a potential threat to people.”

The dead woman had visited a live poultry market a few days before becoming unwell, though the virus wasn’t found in samples collected later from the market and the source of infection remains unknown, the researchers said.

The new virus was sensitive to drugs such as Roche Holding AG’s Tamiflu.

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