China has reported two deaths from bird flu after five new cases of H5N6 were confirmed, with the World Health Organization calling for “urgent” action.
Experts are concerned about the rising number of human cases of bird flu in China and have warned the strain could be more contagious to humans.
Five people – four men and one woman – in Sichuan Province, Zhejiang Province and Guangxi Autonomous Region were infected with the bird flu strain in 2021, The Sun reported, citing the Hong Kong Health Department.
Two of those people have now died and the other three are currently fighting for their lives in hospital, officials said in a statement.
Four out of five of those infected were exposed to live domestic poultry, the statement said. How the fifth was debunked is under investigation.
China has reported two deaths from bird flu after five new cases of H5N6 were confirmed, with the World Health Organization calling for “urgent” action. Pictured: Chicken cages in China (file photo)
The first person to die from H5N6 in December was a 75-year-old man from Luzhou, Sichuan. He was infected on December 1st, hospitalized on December 4th and died on December 12th.
The second victim was a 54-year-old man from Leshan, Sichuan, who became infected on December 8, was admitted on December 16 and died on December 24.
A 51-year-old woman from Hangzhou, Zhejiang, fell ill on December 15 and was hospitalized three days later. The statement listed her condition as critical.
Two other men from Liuzhou, Guangxi – a 53-year-old and a 28-year-old – were also infected and hospitalized on December 23. The older man’s condition is classified as serious, while the younger man’s condition is also critical.
“While local surveillance, prevention and control measures are in place, the CHP will remain vigilant and work closely with the World Health Organization and relevant health authorities to monitor the latest developments,” the statement said.
A total of 63 human cases of avian influenza A (H5N6) have been reported in China since 2014. More than half of these were reported in the last six months.
Although the numbers are much lower than the hundreds of people infected with H7N9 in 2017, the infections are serious, leaving many seriously ill.
Most cases have come in contact with poultry and there have been no confirmed cases of human-to-human transmission, the WHO said in October.
It said more research was “urgently” needed to understand the risk and the increasing impact on people.
“The increase in human cases in China this year is worrying. It’s a virus that causes high mortality,” said Thijs Kuiken, professor of comparative pathology at the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, last year.
Pictured: Workers vaccinate chicks (file photo). China is vaccinating poultry against bird flu, but the vaccine used last year may only provide partial protection against emerging viruses, preventing large outbreaks while allowing the virus to circulate
“It could be that this variant is a little more contagious (to humans)…or there could be more of this virus in poultry right now and therefore more humans are getting infected.”
China is the world’s largest poultry producer and top producer of ducks, which serve as a reservoir for influenza viruses.
Backyard farming is widespread in China and many people still prefer to buy live chickens from markets.
China is vaccinating poultry against bird flu, but the vaccine used last year may only provide partial protection against emerging viruses, preventing large outbreaks while allowing the virus to circulate.
There have been fewer than 1,000 cases worldwide since the virus emerged in the late 1990s. Human-to-human transmission is even rarer.
However, due to the evolution of viruses, experts fear that a strain of bird flu could mutate into one that could easily spread between humans and start a pandemic.
In November, health officials in the UK warned travelers to China about the risk of bird flu.
A Virus That Kills Up To 50% Of People… But Transmission Is Rare: Everything You Need To Know About Avian Flu
What is bird flu?
Avian influenza, or avian influenza, is a contagious influenza that spreads among bird species but can, in rare cases, spread to humans.
Like human influenza, there are many strains of bird flu:
The current outbreak in birds in the UK is H5N1, the strain the infected Brit has.
Where has it been sighted in the UK?
A case of bird flu has been found in a human in south-west England.
Officials did not reveal the exact location of the case, but the UKHSA said all close personal contacts of the person have been traced and there is “no evidence” the infection has spread to other people.
The UK is facing a particularly bad year for bird cases, with around a million to be killed in Lincolnshire – where the virus was first detected on December 11.
Exclusion areas have been established in the region around Mablethorpe, Alford and South Elkington.
There have also been outbreaks in North Yorkshire and Pocklington in East Yorkshire.
How deadly is the virus?
The mortality rate from bird flu in humans is estimated at up to 50 percent.
However, because human transmission is so rare, fewer than 500 avian flu deaths have been reported to the World Health Organization since 1997.
Paul Wigley, Professor of Avian Infection and Immunity at the University of Liverpool, said: “The advice from the APHA and the UKHSA on contact with infected birds is sound and should be followed.
“The risk of broader contagion among the general public remains low.”
Can it be transmitted from birds to humans?
Cases of bird-to-human transmission are rare and do not usually spread from person to person.
Avian flu is transmitted through close contact with an infected bird or the body of an infected bird.
This can include:
- touch infected birds
- Touch feces or litter
- Killing or preparing infected poultry for cooking
Professor Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading, said: “Transmission of bird flu to humans is rare as it requires direct contact between an infected, usually dead, bird and the affected individual.
“It’s a risk for those treating carcasses after an outbreak, but the virus isn’t widespread and poses little of a threat.
“It’s not behaving like the seasonal flu we’re used to.
“Despite the heightened virus concerns at this time, there is no risk to the chicken meat or eggs and there is no cause for public concern.”
What are the symptoms?
Bird flu symptoms usually appear after three to five days, with the most common symptoms being:
- a very high temperature
- or feeling hot or trembling
- a headache
- cough or shortness of breath