Sunday, May 28, 2023

First Human Death from H3N8 Bird Flu in China

A 56-year-old woman from Guangdong province has died from H3N8 bird flu, the first known human fatality from the avian influenza strain.

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Laura Niklas
Laura Niklas
Laura Niklas is a talented journalist with a passion for uncovering under-reported stories. With over seven years of experience, she has made a name for herself in the industry with her in-depth reporting and unique perspective. Laura holds a degree in journalism from the University of Salzburg and has worked for top Austrian newspapers. Her work has been recognized with several awards and she is dedicated to delivering thought-provoking journalism to her readers. Known for her determination and integrity, Laura is a valuable member of the Austrian journalism community.
First Human Death from H3N8 Bird Flu

China has reported its first known human fatality from the H3N8 bird flu strain. The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed the death of a 56-year-old woman from Guangdong province in southeast China. H3N8, which has been circulating since 2002 and is known to infect horses, dogs, and seals, had not been detected in humans until last year when two non-fatal cases were reported in China.

The woman fell sick on 22 February and was hospitalized for severe pneumonia on 3 March. She died on 16 March. The WHO stated that the patient had multiple underlying conditions and a history of exposure to live poultry before the onset of the disease. Furthermore, wild bird presence around her home also contributed to the infection.

The exact source of the virus remains unclear. While exposure to live poultry may have caused the woman’s infection, it is still uncertain how the virus is related to other avian influenza A(H3N8) viruses that are circulating in animals. The WHO called for further animal and human investigations due to the constantly evolving nature of influenza viruses.

The agency added that it appears the virus does not have the ability to spread easily from person to person. Therefore, the risk of it spreading among humans at the national, regional, and international levels is considered to be low. However, the WHO stressed the importance of global surveillance to detect virological, epidemiological, and clinical changes associated with circulating influenza viruses that may affect human or animal health.

Meanwhile, the UK government has announced that it will lift measures it had introduced to stop the spread of bird flu. The housing order meant that eggs laid by hens who normally had access to outside areas and chickens produced for meat could not be marketed as free-range. From 18 April, poultry and other captive birds will no longer need to be housed and can be kept outside unless they are in a “Protection Zone.”

Human bird flu cases are usually the result of direct or indirect exposure to infected live or dead poultry or contaminated environments. Therefore, it is crucial to take measures to protect both human and animal health, including practicing good biosecurity measures, monitoring the health of animals, and reporting any suspected cases of avian influenza promptly.

The UK government’s decision to lift measures comes after the H5N8 bird flu strain has been circulating in Europe and Asia for several months, leading to the culling of thousands of birds in several countries. The virus has not yet been detected in humans, but officials say the risk cannot be ruled out.

The WHO’s call for further investigations into the H3N8 strain comes as the world remains on high alert for emerging infectious diseases, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic serving as a stark reminder of the dangers posed by zoonotic diseases.

Zoonotic diseases are those that can be transmitted from animals to humans, and are responsible for a significant portion of infectious disease outbreaks. The COVID-19 pandemic is thought to have originated in bats, and was likely transmitted to humans through an intermediate animal host, possibly a pangolin.

The H3N8 bird flu strain is just the latest zoonotic disease to emerge in recent years. Other examples include the 2002-2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which is thought to have originated in civet cats, and the 2012 outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which is believed to have originated in camels.

While the H3N8 bird flu strain may not pose a significant threat to humans at this time, experts say it is crucial to remain vigilant and prepared for the possibility of future outbreaks of zoonotic diseases.

The WHO has emphasized the importance of global surveillance to detect any virological, epidemiological, or clinical changes associated with circulating influenza viruses that may affect human or animal health.

As for the UK’s decision to lift bird flu measures, officials have emphasized that the risk of the virus spreading to humans in the UK remains low, but they are urging poultry keepers to remain vigilant and take steps to protect their flocks from the disease.

These steps include practicing good biosecurity measures, such as keeping birds indoors where possible, and separating different species of birds. Poultry keepers are also being encouraged to remain vigilant for any signs of bird flu, such as respiratory distress or a drop in egg production, and to report any suspicions to their veterinarian.

While the lifting of bird flu measures is a welcome development for the UK’s poultry industry, it is clear that the threat of zoonotic diseases remains a significant concern for public health officials and experts around the world. Vigilance and preparedness will be crucial in the ongoing fight against emerging infectious diseases.

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