A wild avian influenza A H6N1 virus has been confirmed in a 20-year-old Taiwanese woman, the first case of its kind in the world.
Scientists analysing the virus found it has a genetic mutation, allowing it to get into human cells and cause infection. Tests on throat-swab samples revealed an unclassified subtype of influenza A virus. Further genome sequencing revealed that the virus was a new H6N1 avian virus.
Dr. Ho-Sheng Wu, from the Centers for Disease Control in Taiwan, says that after running a genetic analysis, they found the virus “has evolved the ability to target a receptor called SAα-2,6 found in the human upper respiratory tract, potentially enabling adaptation of the virus to human cells.”
The woman who was treated in hospital in May, worked in a delicatessen, but had not been in close proximity to poultry or wild birds before the infection. Samples collected from two poultry breeding sites near the woman’s home did not contain the H6N1 virus, so the source of the infection is still unknown.
H6N1 is commonly found in wild and domestic birds in many countries, says Dr. Wu, adding, however, that their findings “suggest that a unique group of H6N1 viruses with the human adaption marker G228S have become endemic and predominant in poultry in Taiwan.”
H6N1 is the latest bird flu virus to cross over to humans. Earlier this year, the first human infections with the H7N9 bird flu virus were reported in people in China, resulting in 45 deaths.