(ORDO NEWS) — In China, health officials have reported the first known human case of H3N8 avian influenza. On Wednesday, April 27, doctors confirmed that a four-year-old child in Henan province had contracted the disease.
China’s National Health Commission said he was showing symptoms of the disease and had recent contact with chickens and crows near his home.
While the H3N8 virus is commonly found in birds and some other animals, including horses and dogs, health authorities around the world continue to reassure the public that animal-to-human transmission of avian influenza remains rare.
“We often see a virus being transmitted to a person and then not spreading further, so an isolated case is not a big concern,” said Sir Peter Horby of the University of Oxford in an interview with the Guardian newspaper.
However, there is cause for concern for both wild and farm birds. The news of the first human case of the H3N8 virus comes as other deadly strains of bird flu are devastating global bird populations.
First detected in Europe in the fall of 2020, the current outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza strain has spread rapidly over the past year.
In January 2021, Claire Hamlett reported for Sentient Media on an already growing outbreak as H5N1 was found on farms around the world.
Since then, according to the latest data from around the world, more than 53 million chickens, turkeys and other poultry have been culled as farmers tried to contain the spread of the virus. Wildlife species have also been affected. Since January, 36 bald eagles have died.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that while the H5N1 and H7N9 strains were responsible for the majority of human cases of avian influenza, no cases of H5N1 have been reported in the US.
The agency also warns that as viruses mutate, bird flu could become more easily transmitted to humans. According to the WHO, from January 2003 to March 2022, there were 863 cases of human infection with the H5N1 virus worldwide, of which 455 were fatal. The UK confirmed that a person had been infected with the H5N1 virus in January of this year.
In a press release issued in response to the latest documented human case, UK animal charity Viva! expressed concern about the public health risks associated with factory farming.
“Factory farms provide the perfect breeding ground for a mutating virus,” writes the nonprofit. “We’re giving viruses a golden opportunity to mutate into more deadly forms. We must eliminate the reservoir of viruses and end factory farming before it does us a thing.”
In June 2021, China reported a case of H10N3 avian influenza, the world’s first reported human infection with this rare strain.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said the source of the disease is unknown because the 41-year-old infected man had no contact with poultry and no other human cases have been identified. Although H10N3 is much less pathogenic than other strains such as H5N1, the WHO has expressed concern.
“While avian influenza viruses circulate in poultry, sporadic cases of human infection with avian influenza are not surprising, a stark reminder that the threat of an influenza pandemic remains,” the WHO said in a statement to Reuters last year.
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