H5N8 Bird flu virus jumps to humans, first case detected in Russia

Chickens in battery cages in an industrial egg-laying barn, Sweden, photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / Djurrattsalliansen
Chickens in battery cages in an industrial egg-laying barn, Sweden, photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / Djurrattsalliansen

Russian scientists said they’ve detected the H5N8 strain of bird flu in humans. The highly contagious strain is deadly for birds and has never before been reported to have spread to humans- the WHO has been alerted.

“Information about the world’s first case of transmission of the avian flu to humans has already been sent to the World Health Organization (WHO),” the head of Russia’s health agency Rospotrebnadzor, Anna Popova, said on Russia-24 TV on Saturday.

Popova said that scientists had discovered genetic material of the strain in seven workers at a bird farm in southern Russia, where an outbreak was recorded among the birds in December.

So far, the workers did not suffer any serious health consequences, she added. Popova praised “the important scientific discovery,” saying “time will tell” if the virus can further mutate.

“The discovery of these mutations when the virus has not still acquired an ability to transmit from human to human gives us all, the entire world, time to prepare for possible mutations and react in an adequate and timely fashion,” Popova said.

Tip of the iceberg
The WHO confirmed on Saturday that it had been notified by Russia about the development. According to the WHO, people usually get infected through direct contact with animals or contaminated environments.

Gwenael Vourc’h, head of research at France’s National Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Environment, said that influenza viruses are known to evolve “quite quickly” and that there might have been other cases besides those reported in Russia. “This is probably the tip of the iceberg,” she told AFP.

A series of outbreaks of bird flu have been reported in Russia, Europe, China, the Middle East and North Africa in recent months. Governments are mass killing animals whenever outbreaks are detected as a solution instead of maybe reconsidering the whole farm industry.

Bulgaria killed 160,000 ducks and 99,00 chickens after an outbreak, Germany has killed 34,00 turkeys, Sweden killed over a million chickens, more than two million chickens were slaughtered in Japan, and more than 100,000 chickens and ducks were killed in Vietnam and India. These are just a few examples, by now the numbers are much higher.

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