Building on my last post about the 2015-2016 flu season is news of two novel flu strains discovered by the Scripps Research Institute this past week and published in the latest issue of Cell Host & Microbe.
These two flu strains - H10N8 and H6N1 - are believed to have originated in China and Taiwan and have resulted in sporadic infections in the region. Fortunately, both strains have not yet been extremely successful in terms of transmission. Specifically, in H10N8, the viral tropogen hemagluttinin protein (H10) was found to have a weak affinity for human receptors. This discovery was attributed to structural reasons revealed through X-ray crystallography.
However, scientists fear that these strains could acquire mutations that make humans more susceptible to infection. Already, the virus has deviated from the original H10N8 virus in birds, although none of these acquired mutations have actually resulted in increased binding affinity for human receptors.
When the same analyses were repeated for H6N1, a similar conclusion came about: there were distinct changes in the genome of H6N1, but these changes had not measurably affected binding affinity to bird or human receptors.
As the 2014-2015 flu season draws to a close, and the 2015-2016 one draws nearer, continuing to monitor novel flu strains will be important in helping select the strains that will be included in next season's vaccine.
-- Andrew Duong