A four-year-old boy from central Henan province in China has been reported as the first human case of H3N8 bird flu infection by the Chinese National Health Commission (NHC) in its press release.
Bird flu or avian flu is an infectious type of influenza that spreads among birds but in rare cases, also affects humans. The largest bird flu outbreak occurred in 2005, where a strain of avian influenza virus, H5N1, led to the death of 140 million birds, mostly culled to stop the infection from spreading. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, human infections of these viruses are closely tracked.
Last year, the NHC confirmed the first human infection with the H10N3 bird flu, even though there was no subsequent human-human transmission of the virus later on.
Case of H3N8 human infection
In the recent case, the boy reported fever and other symptoms on the 5th of April and was admitted to a local medical institution after his condition worsened by the 10th of April. The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention took specimens for testing on the 24th, after which they were found to be positive for H3N8.
Following this, close contacts of the child were also tested for the virus but were found negative and asymptomatic. It is likely that the child contracted the disease from the chickens and ducks that were being raised near his house, the press release said.
The health authorities also said that the preliminary assessment of the virus shows that it does not have the ability to infect humans. The virus has spread globally and has been found in poultry, seals, dogs, and also horses but this is the first reported case of human infection. Last year, the first human infection of the H5N8 variant of the virus was detected in Russia.
What can we do?
The human infection is likely to be a rare case of bird-to-human cross-species transmission and the risk of an outbreak is low. Nevertheless, the health authorities have advised the public to avoid contact with sick or dead poultry, follow practices of dietary hygiene and seek medical treatment if one develops fever and respiratory symptoms.
Sustained monitoring of poultry and humans at the human-poultry interface can help us prevent a bird-flu outbreak, experts said in a paper published this week.