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11-yr-old likely to be country’s first documented case of bird flu

The mortality rate of the infection can be as high as 60%. In comparison, Covid-19 kills fewer than 3% of the people it infects, according to official data.
By Anonna Dutt, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 21, 2021 07:25 AM IST
The infection leads to lower respiratory tract pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome in humans.(HT Photo)

An 11-year-old boy, who died of a respiratory tract infection at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences on Tuesday is likely to be country’s first documented case and death of bird flu (H5N1) in humans, AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria said.

“The samples were sent to NIV-Pune and the National Centre for Disease Control is now following it up,” Guleria said.

The boy was admitted to the hospital’s paediatric department in June-end, a senior AIIMS doctor in know of the matter said. “Initially the doctors suspected Covid-19, then influenza. The boy’s samples were sent to National Institute of Virology in Pune for testing. He was found to have bird flu and contact tracing was immediately conducted,” the doctor said, asking not to be named.

It is, however, unclear how the boy contracted the infection.

According to experts, the virus can be transmitted through contact with faeces and secretions from nose, eye, and mouth of an infected bird. The infection doesn’t usually pass on from humans to humans as the virus is not well adapted to attach to receptors in human cells. It usually happens in people handling dead birds, bird droppings, or infected poultry.

The infection leads to lower respiratory tract pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome in humans. It is difficult for humans to get the infection, but once infected avian influenza can be extremely deadly.

The mortality rate of the infection can be as high as 60%. In comparison, Covid-19 kills fewer than 3% of the people it infects, according to official data.

So far, there have been 862 cases of laboratory confirmed H5N1 infections across the globe, of which 455 succumbed to the infection, pegging the case fatality ratio (CFR) at nearly 53%, according to a May 21 bulletin by the World Health Organization.

This year, H5N8 and H5N1 avian influenza have been reported in birds from across India. The country notified the first outbreak of avian influenza in birds on February 18, 2006. Since then, outbreaks have been reported in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Sikkim, Odisha, Meghalaya, Karnataka, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Chandigarh.

“I don’t have specific details of the case so I won’t comment on the case per se; but it won’t be right to call it the first case because there is always a possibility that there may have been a case earlier that did not get documented since not all places have the facility to run specialised tests, such as gene sequencing or certain types of serological tests. There is no documented human case of bird flu, but it’s a respiratory viral disease and symptoms are similar to other such infections. AIIMS has the facility that is probably why it got picked up,” said Dr Samiran Panda, head, epidemiology and communicable diseases division, Indian Council of Medical Research.

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