Officials say seven people on a poultry farm in southern Russia have been infected with the H5N8 bird flu virus, making it the first time that the highly contagious virus has been found in humans. There is no evidence of human-to-human transmission.
«Today, I would like to inform you of an important scientific discovery made by scientists at the Vector Science Center,» Anna Popova, head of Russia’s consumer health watchdog, said on Saturday. The first human cases of infection [avian influenza A(H5N8)] Lab confirmed. «
The virus was found in seven employees of a poultry farm in southern Russia, where an outbreak of H5N8 virus was reported among birds in December 2020. Popova described the human cases as «mild,» according to Interfax.
«The virus can pass from birds to humans, and it has overcome a barrier between species,» Popova said. «As of today, this type of influenza virus is not transmitted from person to person. Only time will tell us how quickly future mutations will allow to overcome this barrier.»
Popova said the discovery would help researchers prepare for the possibility of H5N8 transmission from person to person. Detailed information on the seven cases was provided to the World Health Organization.
H5N8 has been found in birds since at least 1983, and outbreaks have occurred frequently since 2014, when it was found in duck breeding in South Korea. Several outbreaks have been reported over the past six months, including in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, China, Japan and South Korea.
«Influenza H5N8 is seen as pathogenic and is presently manifesting in a variety of ways, from asymptomatic and subclinical to highly fatal in some populations,» the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) said in an update on recent outbreaks.
Cases of human infection with H5 virus are rare but are usually found in people who have been in contact with sick or dead birds.
The World Health Organization has reported that 239 human cases of H5N1 avian influenza virus have been reported in China and Southeast Asia since 2003, killing 134 people. More recently, two people in China were infected with the H5N6 bird flu virus in January, resulting in the death of a three-year-old girl.
«Community awareness of the potential risks to human health is essential to prevent infection in humans,» the World Health Organization said in a public health assessment of H5 viruses. «Surveillance should continue to detect human cases and early changes in susceptibility to infection and viruses.»