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New bird flu strain 'unlikely to cause pandemic'

The most recent mutation of bird flu is unlikely to cause a pandemic, the Medical Research Council (MRC) has claimed. 

H10N8 has infected humans, but is “bound more tightly” to avian receptors. For H10N8 to pose a threat to human health, it would need to lose some binding capacity for avian receptors, researchers at the MRC Institute for Medical Research claim. 

With the H10 strain, the interaction with the avian receptor is approximately 150 times stronger than with the human receptor.

H10N8 follows H7N9 and H5N1 as the latest in a line of avian flu viruses that cause serious disease in humans.

The first human H10N8 infection was detected in a fatal case of pneumonia in December 2013 in China. Since then there have been two further cases of avian H10N8 infection, and an additional death.

Dr John McCauley, director of the World Health Organization Influenza Centre at the MRC-NIMR, London, said: “We pay special attention to viruses that show changes in receptor binding preference because it is likely to be a requirement for more efficient transmission to humans.

"A change in receptor binding is the essential first step in generating a pandemic virus."

Professor Paul Moss, chair of the MRC Infection and Immunity Board, said: “Outbreaks and epidemics can strike quickly with a substantial impact on society. It is essential that we respond swiftly to potential pandemic strains.

"The team at the MRC-NIMR has been at the forefront of this endeavour and their work here shows exactly how the latest influenza virus identified from birds is able to bind to human cells. The work will be very important in allowing us to monitor for mutations that could lead to the virus gaining the ability to spread between humans."