MANILA — An H5N8 strain of bird flu was detected in humans for the first time among seven infected workers at a Russian poultry farm in December.
Although there is no evidence of the strain being transmitted between humans, Russian authorities reported the incident to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The situation did not develop further, says Dr. Anna Popova, head of consumer health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor. The workers are well. She said the workers had been infected during an outbreak of the strain at the plant.
Similar outbreaks of the strain have been reported in Europe, China, the Middle East, Russia, and North Africa in recent months, but only concerning poultry, not in humans.
Other strains of bird flu, including H5N1, H7N9, and H9N2 have been transmitted to humans before.
According to clinical studies, the H5N8 strain is deadly for birds, and this marks the first transmission of the strain from animals to humans. While Popova says the strain did not appear to spread among humans, she adds, “only time will tell how soon future mutations will allow it to overcome this barrier.”
The discovery of this strain “gives us all, the whole world, time to prepare for possible mutations and the possibility to react in a timely way and develop test systems and vaccines,” Popova says.
According to the RIA Novosti, a Russian state-owned domestic news agency, the Vector Institute in Siberia reported on Saturday that it would start developing human tests and a vaccine against H5N8.
Popova says, on state television, that Russia had reported the development to the WHO several days ago, “just as we became absolutely certain of our results.”
Studies show that most cases of human bird flu infection have been linked to direct contact with infected live or dead poultry; if properly cooked, food is considered safe. The cases tend to spread via migrating wild birds. Poultry-producing countries are advised to keep their poultry indoors or segregated from wildlife.
To prevent further spread of the virus during outbreaks, poultry plants are prompted to kill their birds while other countries are advised to impose trade restrictions. In the United Kingdom, five outbreaks of the H5N8 strain had been reported in Gloucestershire, Dorset, Devon, Cheshire, and Kent and officials had implemented a prevention zone in England, Scotland, and Wales as early as November 2020.
Control zones have been introduced and all birds in the affected areas had been culled “humanely,” says the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. (BG/Headline PH)
Featured image: Poultry farm (Image from CNN)