March 5, 2021

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Russia reports first case of human infection with H5N8 bird flu

Health watchdog says the cases were discovered at a poultry farm in southern Russia in December.

Russia has registered the first case of a strain of bird flu virus named AH5N8 being passed to humans from birds and has reported the case to the World Health Organization (WHO), the head of a health consumer watchdog said.

Outbreaks of the H5N8 strain have been reported in Russia, Europe, China, the Middle East and North Africa in recent months but only in poultry. Other strains – H5N1, H7N9 and H9N2 – have been known to spread to humans.

Russia reported the case to the WHO “several days ago, just as we became absolutely certain of our results,” Anna Popova, the head of health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, told Rossiya 24 state TV on Saturday. There was no sign of transmission between humans so far, she added.

The highly contagious strain is lethal for birds but has never before been reported to have spread to humans.

The majority of human bird flu infections have been associated with direct contact with infected live or dead poultry, though properly cooked food is considered to be safe.

Bird flu outbreaks often prompt poultry plants to kill their birds to prevent the virus from spreading, and avoid importing countries having to impose trade restrictions.

Seven workers at a poultry plant in Russia’s south had been infected with the H5N8 strain when there was an outbreak at the plant in December, Popova said.

The workers did not suffer any serious health consequences, she added.

Popova praised “the important scientific discovery,” saying “time will tell” if the virus can further mutate.

Siberia’s Vector Institute said on Saturday it would start developing human tests and a vaccine against H5N8, RIA news agency reported.

Located in Koltsovo outside the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, the institute has developed one of Russia’s several coronavirus vaccines.