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Russia logs first human case of AH5N8 bird flu

February 20, 2021

Health authorities say they have alerted the World Health Organization after seven workers at a poultry farm in southern Russia tested positive during an outbreak in December.

Workers in protective gear handle poultry
Russia says that the discovery of AH5N8 gives the world "time to prepare for possible mutations"Image: picture alliance/AP/B. Edme

Russia recorded the first case of a strain of bird flu virus being passed to humans from birds, health authorities said Saturday.  

Rospotrebnadzor, the federal agency responsible for consumer protection and human well-being, announced that it had reported the strain, named AH5N8, to the World Health Organization (WHO) "several days ago" after officials became "absolutely certain" of the results.

Has there been human-to-human transmission?

Russia's public health chief Anna Popova said there was no sign of transmission from human to human so far.

"Only time will tell how soon future mutations will allow it to overcome this barrier," she said, adding that authorities have sent the WHO information on the seven infected workers at a poultry farm in southern Russia during an outbreak in December.

"This situation did not develop further," Popova said, adding that the workers feel fine now.

The discovery of AH5N8 now "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," she said.

What is known about bird flu?

Outbreaks of the H5N8 bird flu strain have been registered in Russia, Europe, China, the Middle East and North Africa in recent months, but only in poultry.

Other strains — H5N1, H7N9 and H9N2 — have been discovered to infect humans.

Germany and other European countries saw their last major avian influenza break out in the winter of 2016/17. Germany culled hundreds of thousands of animals on poultry farms as part of efforts to contain the outbreak.

The WHO has warned that though human transmission of A(H5) viruses is "rare" and generally occurs in people exposed to sick or dead infected birds or their environments, it can "lead to severe illness or death in humans."

In a 2016 statement, the WHO said six of 14 cases of H5N6 avian flu in humans reported since 2014 were fatal.

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mvb/mm (Reuters, AFP)