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Bird flu, WHO fears for human-to-human transmission

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Bird flu, WHO fears for human-to-human transmission

The World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed its “tremendous concern” over the growing spread of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza to new species, including humans. “This remains, I think, a huge concern,” he said Jeremy Farrar, chief scientist of the United Nations health agency, during a press briefing in Geneva. The fear is that the H5N1 virus, which has shown “an extraordinarily high mortality rate” in people infected by contact with infected animals, could adapt and become capable of being transmitted from human to human. There is currently no evidence of human-to-human transmission of H5N1.

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Avian flu cases in recent months

Between the start of 2023 and April 1, 2024, WHO reported recording a total of 889 human cases of avian influenza in 23 countries, including 463 deaths, bringing the case fatality rate to 52%. In addition to tracking humans infected by animals – cows in one recent case in the US – “it’s even more important to understand how many human infections are occurring without your knowledge, because that’s where the adaptation” of the virus will occur, he said. Farrar explained. “It’s tragic to say, but if I get infected with H5N1 and die, it’s over (the chain of transmission is broken). But if I go around the community and pass it on to someone else, then the cycle starts,” he said. explained.

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The alarm after infection by a dairy cow

The expert believes that surveillance and infection detection systems “are never sufficient”, but observes that “this is happening in the richest country in the world“, where serological studies have been started “to see if a transmission between cow farmers and others”.

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In early April, American authorities reported that a person had tested positive for avian influenza after being infected from a dairy cow in Texas. A nine-year-old boy carrying the H5N1 strain died from avian influenza in Cambodia in February, following three deaths in the same country in 2023. In the United States, the patient showed “redness of the eyes (corresponding to conjunctivitis) as the only symptom”, authorities said, adding that he was isolated and treated with an antiviral drug used for influenza.

On the same days, EFSA and ECDC have published a joint report: due to the intense spread of the virus and its continuous evolution – we read – “new strains carrying potential mutations for adaptation in mammals could be selected”.

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