(NaturalNews) For the first time ever, the H6N1 bird flu has turned up in a human being, a 20-year-old Taiwanese woman who was hospitalized earlier this year after she developed a high fever, cough and shortness of breath. According to the Associated Press (AP), the woman somehow came down with the virus, which had previously been isolated to birds, even though she had not come into contact with any live fowl.
The woman, whose name has not been publicly released, worked in a deli and nowhere near live birds, which has left investigators with more questions than answers as to how she developed the disease. After symptoms began to emerge, the woman underwent tests that came back positive for H6N1. However, some of her close friends and family members who came down with similar symptoms not long after tested negative for the virus.
Details of the woman's story were published in a recent release of the journal Lancet Respiratory Medicine. Researchers from the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control explain how the abnormalities of the event illustrate the "unpredictability of influenza viruses in human populations." The findings also suggest the imminent importance of conducting further research into how this and other bird flu viruses are suddenly able to pass to humans, they say.
"The question again is what would it take for these viruses to evolve into a pandemic strain?" asks Marion Koopmans, a virologist at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands, in an accompanying commentary on the report.
Most concerning, in Koopmans' view, is the fact that nobody was even aware that H6N1 had developed the ability to transfer to humans until after it suddenly showed up in one. Scientists regularly monitor how various bird flu strains are spreading and mutating among bird populations in order to assess which strains might be harmful to humans. But in the case of H6N1, the scientific community was blindsided.
"We can surely do better than to have human beings as sentinels," she adds.
H5N1, H7N9 and now H6N1: many different bird flu strains threaten humanity
Though no other human cases of H6N1 have emerged, experts worry that the opening of this Pandora's box could eventually trigger a pandemic. Health officials are already having to deal with H5N1, the infamous bird flu strain that first broke out in China back in 1996, as well as H7N9, which has infected some 137 people and killed at least 45 others since last spring.
"All of these viruses are, of course, a concern," says Dr. Richard Webby, a bird flu expert at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, who was not involved in the new study.
As far as H6N1 in humans is concerned, a recent analysis found that the viral strain detected in the Taiwanese woman closely matched the type already identified in chickens. Through some kind of genetic mutation, the virus developed an ability to bind to human cells in the upper respiratory tract. And if it continues to morph, H6N1 could eventually become so virulent that it is able to spread directly from chickens to humans, or from humans to other humans.
"It is not unthinkable for a virus such as H6N1 or H7N9 to eventually mutate into a strain with traits similar to the Spanish Flu which killed at least 50 million people worldwide in 1918," writes Jonathan Robinson for PolicyMic.
To learn more about how to protect you and your family against the flu, be sure to check out the NaturalNews special report "The Five Best Anti-Viral Products to Beat Influenza, Swine Flu, Bird Flu, and SARS": http://www.naturalnews.com.