THURSDAY, Nov. 14 (HealthDay News) -- The first confirmed case of a person infected with a new H6N1 bird flu virus subtype has been reported by scientists in Taiwan.
They said further research is needed to assess the potential threat posed by the H6N1 virus, which is found in wild and domestic birds in many parts of the world.
The patient was a 20-year-old woman from central Taiwan who arrived at a hospital in May 2013 with flu-like symptoms and shortness of breath. She responded to treatment with Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and has since fully recovered.
Tests on throat-swab samples taken from the woman revealed that she was infected with a new H6N1 bird flu virus that closely resembled chicken H6N1 viruses that have been circulating in Taiwan since 1972.
Further investigation showed that the virus had evolved the ability to target receptors in the upper respiratory tract of humans, which could make it more infectious to humans, said study lead author Dr. Ho-Sheng Wu, from the Centers for Disease Control in Taiwan.
The source of the woman's infection is unknown. She worked in a delicatessen, had not been out of the country for three months before she was infected, and had not been in close contact with poultry or wild birds. No H6N1 virus was found in two poultry breeding facilities close to the woman's home.
The woman was in close contact with 36 people, and six of them developed a fever or respiratory tract infection. However, infection with H6N1 was ruled out in those cases, according to the study published online Nov. 14 in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.
The findings suggest that a new group of H6N1 viruses with the ability to target receptors in the human respiratory tract have become common in poultry in Taiwan, according to the researchers.
"As these viruses continue to evolve and accumulate changes, they increase the potential risk of human infection. Further investigations are needed to clarify the potential threat posed by this emerging virus," Wu said in a journal news release.