China has reported two deaths from bird flu after confirming five new cases of H5N6, with the World Health Organization calling for ‘urgent’ action.
Experts are concerned about the rising number of bird flu cases among humans in China and have warned that the strain could be more contagious to humans.
Five people – four men and a woman – in Sichuan Province, Zhejiang Province and the Guangxi Autonomous Region were infected with the bird flu in 2021, The Sun reported, citing Hong Kong’s health department.
Two of those people have now died, while the other three are currently in hospital fighting for their lives, officials said in a statement.
Four out of five infected people were exposed to live poultry, the statement said. How the fifth was unmasked is under investigation.
China has reported two deaths from bird flu after confirming five new cases of H5N6, with the World Health Organization calling for ‘urgent’ action. Pictured: Chicken coops in China (file photo)
The first person to die of H5N6 in December was a 75-year-old man from Luzhou, Sichuan. He was infected on December 1, was rushed to hospital on December 4, and died on December 12.
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 became ill on December 15 and was taken to hospital three days later. The statement said her condition is critical.
Two other men from Liuzhou, Guangxi – a 53-year-old and a 28-year-old – also became infected and were rushed to hospital on December 23. The older man’s condition is considered 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.
In China, a total of 63 cases of avian influenza A (H5N6) have been reported in humans since 2014. More than half of those were reported in the past six months.
While the numbers are much lower than the hundreds infected with H7N9 in 2017, the infections are serious, leaving many seriously ill.
Most of the cases had come into contact with poultry and there have been no confirmed cases of human-to-human transmission, the WHO said in October.
It said further research was “urgent” needed to understand the risk and increase in spillover to humans.
“The increase in human cases in China this year is alarming. It is a virus that causes a 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 vaccinates poultry against avian influenza, but the vaccine used last year may only partially protect against emerging viruses, preventing major outbreaks but keeping the virus circulating
‘It may be that this variant is a bit more contagious (for humans)…or that there is currently more of this virus in poultry and that more people become infected as a result.’
China is the world’s largest poultry producer and top producer of ducks, which act as a reservoir for flu viruses.
Backyard farms in China are common and many people still prefer to buy live chickens in markets.
China is vaccinating poultry against avian influenza, but the vaccine used last year may only partially protect against emerging viruses, preventing major outbreaks but keeping the virus circulating.
There have been fewer than 1,000 cases worldwide since the virus emerged in the late 1990s. Human-to-human spread is even rarer.
But because of the way viruses evolve, experts are concerned that a strain of bird flu could mutate into one that can easily spread between people and cause a pandemic.
In November, health authorities in the UK warned people traveling to China about the risks of bird flu.
A virus that kills up to 50% of people… but transmission is rare: everything you need to know about bird flu
What is bird flu?
Avian flu, or bird flu, is a contagious flu that spreads among bird species, but in rare cases can spread to humans.
Like human flu, there are many types of bird flu:
The current outbreak in birds in the UK is H5N1, the strain the infected Briton has.
Where has it been spotted in the UK?
A case of bird flu has been reported in a human in the south west of England.
Officials have not released the exact location of the case, but UKHSA said all of the person’s close personal contacts have been traced and there is “no evidence” that the infection has spread to anyone else.
The UK is facing a particularly bad year for bird cases, with about a million to be culled in Lincolnshire, where the virus was first spotted on December 11.
Exclusion sites were placed around Mablethorpe, Alford and South Elkington in the region.
There have also been outbreaks in North Yorkshire and Pocklington in East Yorkshire.
How deadly is the virus?
The death rate from bird flu in humans is estimated at 50 percent.
But because transmission to humans is so rare, fewer than 500 deaths from bird flu 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 APHA and UKHSA on contact with infected birds is sensible and should be followed.
‘The chance of wider contamination among the general public remains low.’
Is it transferable from birds to humans?
Cases of bird-to-human transmission are rare and usually do not spread from person to person.
Avian flu is spread through close contact with an infected bird or the body of a bird.
This can be:
- touching infected birds
- touching feces or bedding
- 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 because direct contact between an infected, usually dead, bird and the affected individual is necessary.
“It is a risk to handlers tasked with removing carcasses after an outbreak, but the virus is not widespread and poses little threat.
“It’s not behaving like the seasonal flu we’re used to.
“Despite the current heightened concern about viruses, there is no risk to chicken meat or eggs and no public alarm is needed.”
What are the symptoms?
Bird flu symptoms usually take three to five days to appear, with the most common being:
- a very high temperature
- whether it feels hot or shivering
- sore muscles
- cough or shortness of breath