International H5N8 bird flu virus infects people for first time, Russia alerts WHO

H5N8 bird flu virus infects people for first time, Russia alerts WHO

The virus spread from birds to poultry farm workers in Russia, no human transmission reported

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Moscow – Russian scientists have detected the world’s first case of the H5N8  strain of avian flu spreading from birds to humans. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been alerted.

On Saturday (Feb 20), the head of Russia’s health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, Anna Popova said during a televised statement that scientists at the Vektor laboratory had detected the strain in seven workers at a poultry plant in southern Russia where an outbreak occurred among its birds in Dec 2020.

“All seven people…are now feeling well,” said Ms Popova in a bbc.com report. She noted that adequate measures were quickly taken to curb the spread of infection. The incident marks the first case of the bird flu strain being passed from poultry to humans.

However, there was no sign of transmission between humans, said Ms Popova. She added that the incident had been reported to WHO.

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Ms Popova praised the “important scientific discovery” by the laboratory, which had isolated the strain’s genetic material from the infected workers.

“The discovery of these mutations when the virus has not still acquired an ability to transmit from human to human gives us all, the entire world, time to prepare for possible mutations and react in an adequate and timely fashion,” said Ms Popova.

Russian scientists could now begin working on developing test systems, she added.

On Saturday, the WHO confirmed it had been notified by Russia regarding the case. “We are in discussion with national authorities to gather more information and assess the public health impact of this event,” said a representative in a straitstimes.com report.

“If confirmed, this would be the first time H5N8 infects people.” WHO stressed that the infected workers were “asymptomatic,” and no human-to-human transmission had been reported.

According to the WHO, people can get infected with avian and swine influenza viruses, including bird flu subtypes A(H5N1) and A(H7N9) and swine flu subtypes like A(H1N1). Humans are infected through direct contact with contaminated environments and animals, although there is no sustained transmission among humans, said WHO.

Bird flu and swine flu strains that infect humans have led to fatalities. The H5N1, for example, is reported to cause severe illness and has a 60 per cent mortality rate among humans./TISG

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