China has reported two human cases of bird flu in a man and woman more than 800 hundred miles apart — amid growing concerns the virus is poised to spill over into people and cause a pandemic.
According to more details from the Daily Mail, The 53-year-old woman from the Jiangsu province in eastern China tested positive last month for the H5N1 strain that has been devastating the world’s bird populations, according to the BNO news agency.
Meanwhile, Chinese health officials announced that a 49-year-old man in southern China’s Guangdong province tested positive for H5N6 after coming into contact with live birds.
Concerns about a potential spillover have been brewing in recent weeks after a Cambodian girl died from the virus and her father tested positive. Scientists on the ground said the strain they were infected with had mutations that made it better at infecting humans.
There is nothing to suggest that the two China cases are connected, nor that any strain of bird flu has jumped from human to human. It is not yet clear whether the Cambodia cases were down to human-to-human transmission, a WHO official said.
Furthermore, the cases in Cambodia were caused by H5N1 clade 188.8.131.52c, an older variant which is endemic to wild birds and poultry in the country. The female Chinese patient started experiencing symptoms after eating chicken on January 31, and tested positive for H5N1 sometime in February.
Her current state is unknown and little information has been released. Genetic sequencing in China found that the case was due to the H5N1 clade 184.108.40.206b — the avian flu strain currently devastating bird populations globally and which has infected many birds and mammals since 2021.
A clade is a further subdivision of influenza viruses within strains. Meanwhile, a man in southern China’s Guangdong province has tested positive for H5N6.
The Hong Kong department of health and center for health protection (CHP) announced yesterday that the man contracted the flu after he came into contact with live birds. He developed symptoms on December 17 last year was admitted to the hospital four days later in a ‘serious condition’.
A total of 83 human cases of bird flu have been reported by mainland health authorities since 2014. The bodies jointly urged the public to avoid visiting wet markets and farms.
But the fact that these few human cases have all happened within a matter of weeks may be a worrying sign. It comes as experts yesterday warned that the Cambodia cases provided evidence of possible mutation in the virus.
Dr. Erik Karlsson, who led the team at the Pasteur Institute of Cambodia that decoded the genetic sequence of the girl’s virus, warned that it differed from that taken from birds. He told Sky News: ‘There are some indications that this virus has gone through a human.
‘Any time these viruses get into a new host they’ll have certain changes that allow them to replicate a little bit better or potentially bind to the cells in our respiratory tract a little bit better.’ But he added that the virus was yet to fully adapt to humans, saying it was fundamentally ‘still a bird virus’.
Dr Karlsson said the new mutations were unlikely to have occurred in the girl, but probably existed in a ‘cloud’ of viruses with random genetic changes inside birds.