The World Health Organization (WHO) has been notified after scientists in Russia confirmed at least seven cases of H5N8 bird flu in humans, the first ever, following an outbreak at a poultry farm in the southern Russia.
Avian bird flu H5N8 is a highly contagious strain which is lethal for birds. However, it has never been detected or reported in humans until now.
Russia said it scientists have detected the first cases of transmission of the H5N8 strain of avian flu to humans.
“Information about the world’s first case of transmission of the avian flu (H5N8) to humans has already been sent to the World Health Organization,” said Anna Popova, who heads Russia’s health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, in televised remarks.
In her announcement, Popova said that scientists at Russia’s Vektor laboratory had isolated genetic material of the strain to a poultry farm in southern Russia. An outbreak of the avian flu was recorded among the birds at the farm in December. Now, seven workers have tested positive for the avian bird flu H5N8, after the virus jumped from the infected fowl to humans.
The WHO has yet to comment on the matter.
Popova said that analysis suggested that the virus is not transmitted from person to person.
“The virus can be transmitted from birds to humans, it has overcome the interspecies barrier,” Popova said. “As of today, this variant of the influenza virus is not being transmitted from person to person.”
“But only time will tell how soon future mutations will allow it to overcome this barrier,” Popova added cautiously, while stating that the discovery of the H5N8 avian flu strain in humans now “gives us all, the whole world, time to prepare for possible mutations and the possibility to react in a timely way and develop test systems and vaccines.”
The Vector Institute in Siberia announced that it was taking steps to start developing human tests, as well as a vaccine against H5N8, RIA news agency reported.
According to Russian authorities, the workers infected with the H5N8 avian flu have not suffered any serious health consequences as a result of contracting the virus.
Popova described the human cases as “mild,” according to the Interfax news agency, BNO news reported.
Authorities say the workers have since made a full recovery.
“This situation did not develop further,” Ms. Popova said.