An H5N8 strain of bird flu has been detected in humans for the first time among seven workers who were infected at a Russian poultry plant in December. Although there is no evidence of the strain being transmitted among humans, Russia has reported the transmission to the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to Dr Anna Popova, head of consumer health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, the workers now feel well, and “the situation did not develop further”. She said the workers had been infected during an outbreak of the strain at the plant.
Outbreaks of the strain have been reported in Russia, Europe, China, the Middle East, and North Africa in recent months, but only in poultry. Other strains of bird flu, including H5N1, H7N9, and H9N2, have been transmitted to humans before.
The H5N8 strain is deadly for birds, and this marks the first transmission of the strain from animals to humans. While Popova said the strain didn’t appear to be able to spread among humans, “only time will tell how soon future mutations will allow it to breach this barrier”.
We need to prepare for possible mutations
The discovery of this strain “gives us all, the whole world, time to prepare for possible mutations and the possibility to react promptly and develop test systems and vaccines,” she said. The Vector Institute in Siberia said it would start developing human tests and a vaccine against H5N8.
According to Popova, Russia had reported the developments to the WHO several days ago, “just as we became certain of our results”. Most cases of human bird flu infections have been linked to direct contact with infected live or dead poultry, though properly cooked food is considered safe. The cases tend to be spread via migrating wild birds, leading producing countries to keep their poultry indoors or segregated from wildlife. – The Guardian