Russian authorities have reported seven human cases of the H5N8 strain of bird flu to the World Health Organization.
In a press conference on Saturday (20th February), Anna Popova, Russia’s public health chief, announced the detection of human cases of the H5N8 strain of bird flu. This is the first case of bird-to-human transmission of the particular strain. According to Popova, all seven cases occurred among poultry farmworkers. The workers got exposed to the virus during an outbreak at the poultry plant in December of last year. However, all remained asymptomatic, and researchers did not detect any human-to-human transmission.
Popova hopes that the discovery of the strain will help develop vaccines against the strain in time and prepare the world in advance for possible mutations. Russian authorities have already alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) of the cases.
A Public Health Scare?
There are many different strains of Avian influenza, also called bird flu. Although these viruses commonly infect birds, humans can also contract the infection. Most human cases occur due to contact with infected poultry, alive or dead both. However, the consumption of properly cooked food is considered safe.
In the past, the H5N1 strain has caused several outbreaks among humans. Since the first H5N1 outbreak in 1997, it has managed to claim over 350 lives worldwide. Moreover, it has undergone multiple mutations, resulting in dozens of highly pathogenic strains with a mortality rate of 60% in humans. Therefore, experts worry that if H5N8 strain mutates and starts to cause human-to-human transmission, it can pose a huge threat to public health. Previously, Russia, Europe, China, North Africa, and the Middle East have reported outbreak of the H5N8 strain, but only among its poultry.
H7N9 and H9N2 are the other two bird flu strains that have caused infections in humans previously.
Russia’s Vektor State Virology and Biotechnology Center have already started working on a vaccine against the bird flu strain. However, for now, mass culling of birds remains the best option to contain an outbreak.