A New Type of Bird Flu

H6N1 bird flu in first human patient in Taiwan explored in depth in new study

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Bird flu is often talked about as if it's one disease, but there are a variety of avian influenza strains, some of which have been discovered in humans and some of which have only been seen in birds. The authors of a new study took a close look at the first reported human patient with the H6N1 bird flu strain.

The patient became ill with H6N1 in Taiwan during May 2013.

No further cases were discovered, and the researchers were unable to confirm the source of the patient's infection. But the virus discovered in the patient was very similar to the virus seen in chickens in Taiwan.

"Wash your hands often to help stop the spread of illness."

According to the researchers, who were led by Ho-Sheng Wu, PhD, of the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) in Taipei, Taiwan, "Avian influenza A H6N1 virus is one of the most common viruses isolated from wild and domestic avian species, but human infection with this virus has not been previously reported."

At least not until a 20-year-old woman in Taiwan went to a hospital in May 2013 with flu-like symptoms and shortness of breath. A sample was taken from the patient and sent to the Taiwanese CDC for analysis.

According to Dr. Wu and colleagues, the CDC determined that the patient was ill with the H6N1 avian influenza — the first reported human infection with the virus.

The patient did not have close contact with live animals, and while she worked at a deli, she did not handle the cooking of raw animal products.

The CDC was unable to determine the exact source of the infection, but the patient's influenza was very genetically similar to the H6N1 virus known to infect chickens in Taiwan.

According to the authors of this study, 36 close contacts of the patient, including healthcare workers, coworkers and family members, were analyzed for flu-like symptoms. Six contacts who had respiratory symptoms were tested for the virus, and none tested positive for H6N1.

In light of this patient's diagnosis, enhanced surveillance began at area hospitals and health clinics. This surveillance resulted in the testing of 125 samples for H6N1, none of which tested positive for the virus strain.

The patient was treated using oseltamivir (Tamiflu), an antiviral medication commonly used against influenza, and her symptoms improved within a few days.

"The occurrence of a human case of H6N1 infection shows the unpredictability of influenza viruses in human populations," Dr. Hu and colleagues wrote. 

"Our report highlights the need for influenza pandemic preparedness, including intensive surveillance for ever evolving avian influenza viruses," they concluded. 

This study was published online November 13 in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
November 13, 2013
Last Updated:
November 13, 2013