Woman dies from H5N6 avian influenza in China

Three people in protective suits
Officials in protective suits work at a chicken farm where bird flu was confirmed, Japan, photo: Kyodo / via Reuters

A 54-year-old Chinese woman died from the H5N6 strain of bird flu last month, a regional health bureau said on Wednesday. The woman from Zigong city in Sichuan province developed symptoms on November 17.

On November 21, she was admitted to hospital. Two days later, she died, according to news agency Reuters, based on information from the health bureau of the Macau region. She had been exposed to dead birds before she became ill.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 26 of the 52 humans infected with H5N6 avian influenza have died since 2014. The latest case makes the total deaths 27.

There has been a spike in cases of H5N6 bird flu in China this year, causing concern among experts, who think a previously circulating strain has changed, making it more infectious to people.

Experts say that the virus could have evolved because of the extreme growth of industrial duck, chicken, geese and turkey farms in recent years.

When avian influenza viruses circulate in animal farms, there’s always a risk of human infection, the WHO said. Human cases are not unexpected, it added.

The H5, H7, and H9 strains of bird flu, also know as avian influenza or avian flu, are most likely to infect humans. Human infections with avian influenza viruses can happen when enough virus gets into the eyes, nose or mouth of a person, or when the virus is inhaled.

H5N1 avian influenza virus
Since 2003, there have been 863 cases of human infection with H5N1 avian influenza in 18 countries, according to data from the WHO. Of these 863 cases, 456 were fatal. The last case was in July when an 11-year-old boy in India died.

H5N8 avian influenza virus
In February, the first human cases of H5N8 avian influenza were reported in Russia. Seven people who worked at an animal farm were infected.

H7N9 avian influenza virus
To date, 1,568 humans have been infected with H7N9 avian influenza virus, 616 people died.

H9N2, H10N3, H7N4
A total of 58 cases of human infection with H9N2 avian influenza have been reported to WHO. Only one human case of H10N3 avian influenza virus and one human case of H7N4 bird flu have been reported globally.

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