Warning about bird flu in humans as two 'critical' cases emerge in China - petsitterbank

Warning about bird flu in humans as two ‘critical’ cases emerge in China

China’s latest cases come amid a global surge of infections in poultry and wild birds, with those who work closely with poultry told to remain vigilant and take steps to minimize the risk of transmission – both within flocks, and to themselves.

The World Organization for Animal Health (or OIE) said it has seen a significant increase in reports with various subtypes – including H5N1, H5N6 and H5N8 – found in well over 40 countries.

All influenza strains are classified with an H and N number, which refer to changes in the virus that might affect the immune response. But the fact that so many variants are spreading simultaneously could be a breeding ground for new, potentially dangerous, shifts in the virus, the OIE said.

“The co-circulation of different H5 strains in various bird populations is favourable

to further genetic evolution of the virus, making the surveillance of the disease more complex,” a spokesperson told TheTelegraph.

“In light of this, and the coming months being the high-risk period for avian influenza, it is likely that more outbreaks in birds will occur. The spread of the disease usually follows a seasonal trend, rising in October, with peaks in February and continuing through April.”

In the UK, at least half a million birds were culled last year as the country saw a surge of H5N1. Earlier this month, Britain’s first human H5N1 case was detected, in a 79-year-old man – Alan Gosling – who kept ducks at his home in Devon.

Although the global influenza surveillance system is well established, experts said the situation in China demonstrates the need to keep watch for pathogens with a pandemic potential – and to put plans in place in case of a worst-case scenario.

“We do have vaccines that can be read if they are needed, but manufacture would take time,” said Jonathan Ball, a professor of virology at the University of Nottingham. “We also have effective antivirals that can be used to treat any infections if necessary. With flu, we are in a far better position than we were when the totally new coronavirus reared its head.

“So, we should keep monitoring the situation – we have very good flu surveillance systems around the world – and ensure that outbreaks are controlled so we don’t give the virus a chance to take hold.”

A spokesperson from the World Health Organization added: “Whenever avian influenza viruses are circulating in poultry, there is a risk for sporadic infection and small clusters of human cases due to exposure to infected poultry or contaminated environments. Therefore, sporadic human cases are not unexpected.

“WHO recommends Member States to remain vigilant and consider mitigation steps to reduce human exposure to potentially infected birds to reduce risk of additional zoonotic infection.”

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