First Human Case of H5N8 in Russia: How did experts react and warnings raised?
|The first human case of H5N8 has been detected in Russia. Photo: BBC|
The first human case of H5N8 has been detected in Russia
Russia said Saturday that its scientists had detected the world’s first case of transmission of the H5N8 strain of avian flu from birds to humans and had alerted the World Health Organization, reported Inquirer.
In televised remarks, the head of Russia’s health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, Anna Popova, said scientists at the Vektor laboratory had isolated the strain’s genetic material from seven workers at a poultry farm in southern Russia, where an outbreak was recorded among the birds in December.
The workers did not suffer any serious health consequences, she added. They are believed to have caught the virus from poultry on the farm.
“Information about the world’s first case of transmission of the avian flu (H5N8) to humans has already been sent to the World Health Organization,” Popova said.
There are different subtypes of avian influenza viruses. While the highly contagious strain H5N8 is lethal for birds, it had never before been reported to have spread to humans. Popova praised “the important scientific discovery”, saying “time will tell” if the virus can further mutate.
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What is the H5N8 strain?
The H5N8 strain is a sub-type of the Influenza A virus that usually affects birds and mammals. The virus is highly lethal to wild birds and poultry, as cited by Zee News.
Where else has the H5N8 strain been reported?
Outbreaks of the H5N8 strain have been reported in Russia, Europe, China, the Middle East, and North Africa in recent months but so far only in poultry, reported Hindustan Times.
Several states in India had also reported the outbreak of avian flu in January but there was no report of transmission to humans. Experts had said the outbreak was caused by the H5N8 strain, though there are other strains circulating globally. A series of outbreaks have been reported in Europe in the past weeks, with wild birds suspected to be spreading the disease, they had said in early January.
According to experts, both H5N1 (another strain of avian influenza) and H5N8 have high pathogenicity or the ability of a pathogen to cause disease, but they don’t infect humans very effectively. However, past outbreaks among farm birds have needed extensive slaughtering programs.
How did experts react and warnings raised?
Chinese experts said although it may not become a black swan event, the discovery is a warning for countries that reported outbreaks of the strain. And they advised these countries to set up appropriate mechanisms to prevent inter-species transmission.
Human-to-human transmission of the novel bird flu virus has not been registered yet, Tass quoted a Russian official as saying on Sunday.
All seven infected people are in good health and have only mild symptoms, said the official.
Yang Zhanqiu, deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, said on Sunday that the pathogenicity of avian influenza seems not to be high judging by the current mild condition of the patients, which indicates the H5N8 bird flu outbreak is not that risky.
|Photo: Sky News|
Zhu Yi, an associate professor at China Agricultural University in Beijing, believes that the discovery that the new strain has passed from birds to humans might not become a black swan event, at most a "gray rhino event." Gray rhinos usually refer to non-random events that occur after a series of warnings and visible evidence.
"Humans have more experience in dealing with bird flu and tend to get the upper hand in the battle against the disease," Zhu said.
The H5N8 strain of bird flu has been found in Europe, South Asia, East Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa in recent months, with no detected cases of human infection until the Russian report.
Russian scientists found the new strain of bird flu at a poultry farm in southern Russian, where an outbreak in the bird population was recorded in December 2020, Tass reported.
However, both Chinese experts pointed out that the possibility of human-to-human transmission cannot be ruled out if the virus mutates.
The Russian official was quoted in the report that "time will tell how soon subsequent mutations will allow it to cross this [human-to-human] barrier."
Zhu said the inter-species transmission should sound an alarm to the world, especially the countries where bird flu outbreaks have happened, and that mechanisms should be established to prevent the virus from passing from wild birds to poultry and then to humans, reported Global Times.
The highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses are mainly transmitted through physical contact with infected poultry, their secretions, and excrement, and it could also cause infections via respiratory and digestive tracts. Wild birds are easily cross-infected during migration.
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