Bird flu outbreak poses 'very low risk' to public says expert
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The 51-year-old developed symptoms of the virus after exposure to live domestic poultry, the Hong Kong Health Department reported. She was hospitalised three days later and remains in critical condition. No further details have been released by the Chinese government.
There have been increasing calls for surveillance of the H5N6 virus as the total number of cases reported this year have risen to 17.
Five people have died from the flu so far this year.
Two other people died of H5N6 bird flu in December 2021 but the cases were only reported by Chinese health authorities last week.
The 12-year-old girl and 79-year-old man, living in the Guangxi region, both fell ill after visiting a live poultry market.
It is not clear why the deaths were reported 3.5 months after they occurred.
Since the first confirmed case of H5N6 in 2014, only 76 people have been infected with the flu.
However, the majority of them have been diagnosed in the last year.
H5N6, which causes severe illness in humans of all ages, has killed almost half of those infected with it, according to the WHO.
While there have been no confirmed cases of human-to-human transmission, a woman who tested positive for H5N6 last year denied having any contact with live poultry.
A study published by China’s Center for Disease Control in September highlighted several mutations present in two recent cases of the flu strain.
The researchers said that “the increasing trend of human infection with avian influenza virus has become an important public health issue that cannot be ignored.”
Meanwhile, Thijs Kuiken, professor of comparative pathology at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam suggested that H5N6 could be becoming “more infectious”.
Speaking to Reuters, he said: “It could be that this variant is a little more infectious (to people) … or there could be more of this virus in poultry at the moment and that’s why more people are getting infected.”
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The same month, a spokesperson for the WHO said that there was a low risk of human-to-human transmission but they added that increased surveillance of the illness was “urgently required” to gain a fuller understanding of the rising case numbers.
One case of avian flu was detected in the UK in January 2022, after an individual had prolonged contact with infected live poultry.
Professor Isabel Oliver, Chief Scientific Officer at the UK Health Security Agency said: “While the risk of avian flu to the general public is very low, we know that some strains do have the potential to spread to humans and that’s why we have robust systems in place to detect these early and take action.
“Currently there is no evidence that this strain detected in the UK can spread from person to person, but we know that viruses evolve all the time and we continue to monitor the situation closely.
“We have followed up all of this individual’s contacts and have not identified any onward spread.
“It remains critical that people do not touch sick or dead birds, and that they follow the DEFRA advice about reporting.”
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