Seven people at a poultry farm in southern Russia have tested positive for H5N8 bird flu, officials say, making it the first time that the highly pathogenic virus has been found in humans. There is no evidence of human-to-human transmission yet.
“Today, I want to inform you about an important scientific discovery made by scientists at the Vector Scientific Center. The first cases of human infection with [avian influenza A(H5N8)] have been laboratory confirmed,” said by Anna Popova, the head of Russia’s consumer health watchdog.
The virus was found in seven employees at a poultry farm in southern Russia, where outbreaks of H5N8 bird flu had previously been reported in the bird population.
“The virus can be transmitted from birds to humans, it has overcome the interspecies barrier. As of today, this variant of the influenza virus is not transmitted from person to person. Only time will tell how quickly future mutations will allow it to overcome this barrier,” Popova said.
Popova said the discovery will help researchers to prepare for the possibility of human-to-human transmission of the H5N8 virus. Detailed information about the cases has been submitted to the World Health Organization (WHO).
H5N8 has been found in birds since at least 1983 and outbreaks have occurred frequently since 2014, when it was found in breeding ducks in South Korea. Numerous outbreaks have been reported over the past 6 months, including in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, China, Japan, and South Korea.
“The H5N8 type influenza is regarded as pathogenic and is currently manifesting itself in a variety of ways, from asymptomatic and sub-clinical to highly lethal in some populations,” the World Organization for Animal Health said in an update about recent outbreaks.