First human death from H3N8 bird flu. What we know about the virus
The spread of the H3N8 bird flu virus in humans is usually a result of exposure to live or dead poultry and contaminated environments.
China has reported the first human death from H3N8 bird flu, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday. This is the first time the avian influenza strain has led to a human fatality. However, it was the third case of human infection with the H3N8 virus ever.
H3N8 is a kind of bird flu, which is extremely rare in humans. However, the strain doesn’t spread from person to person.
WHO said in a statement, “The patient was a 56-year-old female from Guangdong province with an onset of illness on 22 February 2023. She was hospitalized for severe pneumonia on 3 March 2023 and subsequently died on 16 March 2023.”
It further added, “The patient had multiple underlying conditions. She had a history of exposure to live poultry before the onset of the disease, and a history of wild bird presence around her home. No close contacts of the case developed an infection or symptoms of illness at the time of reporting.”
What is H3N8 bird flu?
First found in wild birds in the 1960s, the H3N8 virus has also been detected in other animals. After the H3N8 virus emerged in the North American waterfowl, it surfaced again in 2002 and is known to infect dogs, horses and seals.
The spread of bird flu viruses in humans is usually a result of human exposure to live or dead poultry and even contaminated environments.
The H3N8 virus is extremely common among birds and has little to no effect on them, Reuters reported.
How did the H3N8 virus infect humans?
Over the past year, the virus has infected three people, all of whom lived in China. While the virus does not spread from person to person, it infected two children in 2022.
As per the United States’ public health agency Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “The first infection was in a child who had exposure to backyard chickens and wild ducks in April 2022. The patient became critically ill and was hospitalized for their illness”.
In May 2022, the second infection was found in a child who went to a market where live poultry was present. The child had reported mild symptoms.
CDC said, “All close contacts of the first two reported cases tested negative for influenza A viruses, and both children recovered.”
In the third case, which led to the death of a woman, WHO also said, “Environmental samples were collected from the patient's residence and the wet market where the patient spent time before the onset of illness. The results of testing showed that the samples collected from the wet market were positive for influenza A(H3).”
As per the WHO, the Chinese government has “enhanced monitoring and disinfection in the surrounding environment of the patient’s residence” and increased “public risk communication activities to improve public awareness and adoption of self-protection measures”.
What are the symptoms?
According to the World Health Organization, the symptoms can depend upon factors that are directly related to the specific bird flu viruses as well as the host body.
“Disease can range from conjunctivitis or mild flu-like symptoms to severe acute respiratory disease or even death. Gastrointestinal or neurological symptoms have been reported but these are rare,” WHO statement said.
It further added, “Human cases of infection with avian influenza viruses are usually the result of direct or indirect exposure to infected live or dead poultry or contaminated environments.”