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Bird Flu Strain Jumped to Humans for First Time: Russia

7 workers at plant feel fine, officials say, and work on a vaccine is beginning
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 21, 2021 10:45 AM CST

(Newser) – Russia has reported the first instances of a strain of bird flu jumping from poultry to humans to the World Health Organization. The outbreak happened at a plant in southern Russia, officials said. "All seven people... are now feeling well," said Anna Popova, chief of the nation's consumer health watchdog. Humans have been infected with other strains of bird flu, but not this one: H5N8. Popuva said that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission, the BBC reports, and that steps had been taken to prevent further infections. The cases were reported "several days ago, just as we became absolutely certain of our results," Popuva said Saturday. The workers were asymptomatic, WHO officials said. The Vector Institute in Siberia plans to start work on developing human tests for the strain, as well as an H5N8 vaccine.

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The institute had isolated the strain's genetic material from infected workers, Popuva said. "The discovery of these mutations when the virus has not still acquired an ability to transmit from human to human gives us all, the entire world, time to prepare for possible mutations," she said. Most H5N8 cases are spread by migrating wild birds; producers often try to prevent contact between wildlife and poultry. In the past few months, H5N8 outbreaks also have been reported in Europe, China, the Middle East, and North Africa, per Reuters, but they've been limited to poultry. An H5N8 outbreak hit poultry farms in Germany, the Netherlands and the UK in 2014, per CNN. Plants dealing with avian flu often kill their poultry to prevent the virus from spreading and to avoid facing import restrictions in other countries. (Read more bird flu stories.)

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