Human bird flu infections ‘still rare’ despite death of Cambodian girl

The world is on high alert for human cases of bird flu.

The Death of an 11 year old girl In Cambodia — and confirmation that her father is also infected — has sparked concern around the world.

It could become a cluster. Several other people are being tested and a small number are being reported by local media with symptoms.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the H5N1 virus has mutated to transmit between humans.

The family kept chickens and ducks, all of which had recently died.

While health authorities are still investigating the source of the infections, there will be suspicions that the virus is spreading from the birds.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), H5N1 has caused at least 870 human cases and 457 deaths since 1997.

Most have had direct contact with infected poultry and the latest WHO assessment is that the risk of continued transmission to humans is low.

Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology at the University of Nottingham, said: “This is a very sad result for the young girl who has been infected with a particularly aggressive form of avian influenza or ‘bird flu’.

“Fortunately, human infections are still rare and the likelihood of human-to-human transmission is very low.”

But the virus mutates.

Continue reading:
Cambodian girl dies of bird flu, health officials say
Avian flu has spread to mammals in the UK

The UK Health Security Agency’s latest technical briefing on H5N1 says it has undergone genetic changes that “provide an advantage for mammalian infections”, placing the current risk in the UK at Level 3 on a five-point scale.

H5N1 spread to a mink farm in northern Spain last year and was almost certainly passed from animal to animal.

And the virus has also infected other mammals, including foxes and otters in the UK.

It could only be a matter of time before the virus continues to mutate to more easily infect and spread people.

The Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has warned that “we must prepare for any change in the status quo”.

The COVID pandemic has shown that settling for animal viruses would be foolish.

Professor Ball added: “The risk to humans is still very low, but it is important that we continue to monitor the spread of influenza in both bird and mammalian populations and do what we can to reduce the number of infections observed .

“It also shows why efforts to develop next-generation cross-reactive vaccines are so important.”

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