Seven Russians infected with H5N8 bird flu; first cases reported in humans

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Russian officials said on Saturday they had reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) the first case of an H5N8 bird flu passed to humans.

Head of consumer rights protection agency Rospotrebnadzor and chief sanitary officer Dr Anna Popova announced poultry workers have been infected with the virus A(H5N8) in December, but "[a]ll seven [...] are now feeling well" and "the situation did not develop further". She said they reported it to the WHO "several days ago, just as we became absolutely certain of our results".

Popova said transmission between humans has not yet been detected, while noting the potential of mutations able "to overcome this barrier". She concluded the discovery "gives us all, the entire world, time to prepare for possible mutations and react in an adequate and timely fashion".

The WHO's European Regional Office said in an e-mail "the reported cases were [...] asymptomatic and no onward human to human transmission was reported", according to "[p]reliminary information". The e-mail continued "[w]e are in discussion with national authorities to gather more information and assess the public health impact".

The strain's genetic material was isolated from infected workers by the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology, which announced its intention to develop human tests and an H5N8 vaccine.

Outbreaks of H5N8 in poultry have been found in the past few months in China, Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Russia.

Strains of bird flu have occasionally infected or killed humans before. Most transmissions were attributed to direct contact with live or uncooked dead poultry.