New common research scientists from China and the United Kingdom showed that one of the subtypes of the bird flu virus undergoes mutational changes that can increase the risk of transmitting the disease to humans. The researchers also say that the obtained results raise concerns about the emergence of a new pandemic.
Using laboratory animals as models of human infection, the researchers saw that the H3N8 subtype of avian influenza virus (AIV) has undergone a number of adaptive changes that cause severe infections and make it airborne.
In humans, infection with the avian H3N8 virus has been found to cause acute respiratory distress syndrome and can even lead to death. The virus is widespread in poultry farms, but previously the specifics of how it can be transmitted from animals to humans were poorly understood.
“We have shown that the avian H3N8 virus replicates efficiently in the epithelial cells of human bronchi and lungs, and is very harmful to laboratory mammalian hosts and can be transmitted by airborne droplets,” explained Professor Kin-Chow Chang from Nott University .
“The important thing is that we discovered that the virus has acquired an “advantage” – all else being equal, it prefers to bind to the receptors of human cells. He also acquired mutations that are necessary for airborne transmission,” he added.
Researchers emphasize that if the virus spreads among people, even those vaccinated against the human version of the H3N2 flu virus will be unprotected against the new adapted virus, which could cause the development of an epidemic or even a pandemic.