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Bird Flu Spreading To Humans, WHO Has A Warning | Explained

While there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the influenza A(H5N1) virus, the 'extraordinarily high' mortality rate in the hundreds of cases where humans caught it from animals is worrying.

Bird Flu Spreading To Humans
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The World Health Organization (WHO) expressed concern on Thursday about the increasing spread of H5N1 bird flu to other species, including humans, who face an "extraordinarily high" mortality rate.

"This remains, I think, an enormous concern," WHO's chief scientist Jeremy Farrar told reporters in Geneva.

With cows and goats joining the list of mammals infected with the current bird flu outbreak that began in 2020, the UN health agency official referred to it as "a global zoonotic animal pandemic."

"The great concern of course is that in... infecting ducks and chickens and then increasingly mammals, that virus now evolves and develops the ability to infect humans and then critically the ability to go from human to human."

While there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the influenza A(H5N1) virus, the 'extraordinarily high' mortality rate in the hundreds of cases where humans caught it from animals is worrying. 

From the beginning of 2023 to April 1 this year, WHO reported 463 deaths out of 889 confirmed human cases across 23 countries, resulting in a case fatality rate of 52 per cent.

What Is Bird Flu?

Bird flu, also known as avian flu, is a contagious type of influenza that primarily spreads among birds. Occasionally, it can also affect humans.

There are many strains of bird flu virus, but most of them do not pose a threat to humans. However, four specific strains have raised concerns in recent years:

  • H5N1 (since 1997)

  • H7N9 (since 2013)

  • H5N6 (since 2014)

  • H5N8 (since 2016)

While H5N1, H7N9, and H5N6 typically do not easily infect humans and are not commonly transmitted from person to person, several people have been infected around the world, leading to a number of deaths.

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How Bird Flu Spreads To Humans?

Bird flu is transmitted through close contact with an infected bird, whether dead or alive. This includes:

  • Touching infected birds

  • Handling droppings or bedding from infected birds

  • Handling or preparing infected poultry for cooking

What Are The Symptoms Of Bird Flu In Humans?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the reported signs and symptoms range from no symptoms or mild illness (such as conjunctivitis or mild flu-like upper respiratory symptoms) to severe cases requiring hospitalisation.

Common symptoms include fever (temperature of 100ºF [37.8ºC] or greater), cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

Less common symptoms may include diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, or seizures. It's important to note that fever may not always be present in bird flu cases.

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