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Experts fear emergence of new bird flu variant as number of human infections spike

Posted: Tuesday, October 26, 2021. 8:54 am CST.

By BBN Staff: Reuters reports that scientists and international organizations are closely monitoring the situation in China where there has been a spike in avian influenza (bird flu) cases, fearing that a new, more dangerous variant of the virus has emerged.

Experts are concerned that there is a more contagious variant of the H5N6 virus, as 21 human infections have been reported which the World Health Organization has noted is concerning when compared to last year when there were only five reported cases. Thus far at least six people have died and many of the survivors are critically ill.

Thijs Kuiken, professor of comparative pathology at Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam was quoted as saying, “The increase in human cases in China this year is of concern. It’s a virus that causes high mortality.”

The situation has not gone unnoticed in China, with the Chinese Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishing a study on its website last month saying that the “increasing genetic diversity and geographical distribution of H5N6 pose a serious threat to the poultry industry and human health”.

Filip Claes, Regional Laboratory Coordinator at the Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases at the Food and Agriculture Organization noted that China vaccinates poultry against avian influenza but the vaccine used last year may only partially protect against emerging viruses, preventing large outbreaks but allowing the virus to keep circulating.

Investigations thus far have revealed all of the infected contracted the virus from poultry, and there has been no confirmed human-to-human transmission of the virus. However, experts are keeping a close watch on the situation in fear that a variant capable of causing another pandemic may emerge. Notably, the virus carries a high mortality rate.

Back in late 2019 when the first cases of the novel coronavirus which was later dubbed COVID-19 emerged, it was not readily a concern for other parts of the world until the rapid spread saw multiple countries suddenly reporting cases, and the numbers then went up exponentially.

 

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