At a poultry farm in the south of Russia, seven employees are infected with the bird flu variant H5N8. It is the first time that the highly pathogenic virus has been found in humans. There is no evidence of human-to-human transmission so far.
Anna Popova, the head of the Russian consumer health authority, says the contamination has been confirmed in laboratory tests. The Russians then informed the World Health Organization WHO.
The virus was found in employees of a poultry farm where outbreaks of H5N8 were reported late last year. Popova described the cases in humans as “mild,” according to Russian news agency Interfax.
“The virus can be transmitted from birds to humans, it has overcome the interspecies barrier,” Popova reported. This variant of the influenza virus has not yet been transmitted from human to human. Only time will tell how quickly mutations will be able to overcome this barrier.
H5N8 has been found in birds since 1983, and outbreaks have occurred on a regular basis since 2014, when it was found in breeding ducks in South Korea. Numerous outbreaks have been reported worldwide in recent months, not only in Russia or the Netherlands, but also in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, China, Japan and South Korea, among others.
Cases of H5 viruses in humans are rare, but are usually found in humans in contact with sick or dead birds.
According to the WHO, 239 human cases of H5N1 avian flu have been reported in China and Southeast Asia in the past 20 years, of which 134 people have died. More recently, in January, two people in China became infected with the H5N6 variant, killing a three-year-old girl.
"Community awareness of potential human health hazards is essential to prevent infection in humans," WHO said in a public health review for H5 viruses. "Surveillance must continue to detect human cases and early changes in the transmissibility and infectivity of the viruses."