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A strain of bird flu that scientists thought could not infect people has shown up in a Taiwanese woman, a nasty surprise that shows scientists must do more to spot worrisome flu strains before they ignite a global outbreak, doctors say.
On a more hopeful front, two pharmaceuticals separately reported encouraging results from human tests of a possible vaccine against a different type of bird flu that has been spreading in China since first being identified last spring, which is feared to have pandemic potential.
The woman, 20, was hospitalized in May with a lung infection. After being treated with Tamiflu and antibiotics, she was released. One of her throat swabs was sent to the Taiwan Centres for Disease Control. Experts there identified it as the H6N1 bird flu, widely circulating in chickens on the island.
Since the H5N1 bird flu strain first broke out in southern China in 1996, public health officials have been nervously monitoring its progress — it has so far killed more than 600 people, mostly in Asia.