Culling of birds was done to prevent the spread of bird flu as H5N8 virus was reported in two districts of Kerala Alapuzha and Kottayam, in Alapuzha district in January. (ANI Photo )
Culling of birds was done to prevent the spread of bird flu as H5N8 virus was reported in two districts of Kerala Alapuzha and Kottayam, in Alapuzha district in January. (ANI Photo )

Explained: What is H5N8? Strain of bird flu virus 1st to infect humans in Russia

Seven workers at a poultry plant in Russia's south were infected with the H5N8 strain after an outbreak in birds in December last year.
By hindustantimes.com | Written by Kanishka Sarkar, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON FEB 21, 2021 11:33 AM IST

Russia has reported the world's first case of a strain of bird flu virus that has infected humans via birds. The outbreak of the H5N8 strain has been reported to the World Health Organization (WHO), Anna Popova, head of consumer health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor was quoted as saying by news agency ANI. 

What is the H5N8 strain?

The strain is a subtype of the influenza A virus that causes flu-like symptoms in wild birds and poultry. It poses a low risk to people, but it is fatal for birds. This was found in crows in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Until recently, it was not known to have affected humans. 

Humans infected 

Seven workers at a poultry plant in Russia's south were infected with the H5N8 strain after an outbreak in birds in December last year, Popova said, adding that they all felt fine now. “Russia reported the case of human infection to the WHO several days ago, just as we became absolutely certain of our results," she was quoted as saying by news agency Reuters. 

Where else has the H5N8 strain been reported? 

Outbreaks of the H5N8 strain have been reported in Russia, Europe, China, the Middle East and North Africa in recent months but so far only in poultry. 

Several states in India had also reported the outbreak of avian flu in January but there was no report of transmission to humans. Experts had said the outbreak was caused by the H5N8 strain, though there are other strains circulating globally. A series of outbreaks have been reported in Europe in the past weeks, with wild birds suspected to be spreading the disease, they had said in early January. 

According to experts, both H5N1 (another strain of avian influenza) and H5N8 have high pathogenicity or the ability of a pathogen to cause disease, but they don’t infect humans very effectively. However, past outbreaks among farm birds have needed extensive slaughtering programmes.

How was H5N8 transmitted to humans in Russia?

"Preliminary information indicates that the reported cases were workers exposed to bird flocks," Reuters said citing an email from WHO's European arm. They were asymptomatic and no onward human to human transmission was reported. "We are in discussion with national authorities to gather more information and assess the public health impact of this event," the email added.

Is eating poultry safe? 

The majority of human bird flu infections have been associated with direct contact with infected live or dead poultry, though properly cooked food is considered to be safe, Reuters reported. 

(With agency inputs)

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