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WHO: First death reported from new bird flu strain

By Paul Godfrey,


April 12 (UPI) -- Chinese health authorities have reported the death of a woman from bird flu to the World Health Organization, the first confirmed fatality from the A(H3N8) virus.
The WHO said a wet market frequented by a woman who died of bird flu last month had tested positive for the virus. Wet markets where animals are sold live or slaughtered to order are common across China and Asia. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI

The latest infection is the third case reported from China in the past 12 months, but an epidemiological investigation and tracing of close contacts of the victim have not found any additional infections, WHO said Tuesday in a news release.

The 56-year-old victim from Zhongshan in Guangdong in the southeast of the country first became sick on Feb. 22 and was admitted to hospital with severe pneumonia on March 3.

WHO said she was suffering from serious existing health conditions and had a background of contact with live poultry.

The case was detected by China's Severe Acute Respiratory infection surveillance system and subsequently, an unidentified wet market frequented by the woman tested positive for bird flu.

The organization stressed that the risk of bird flu spreading was low because the epidemiological and virological information indicated that this virus type was not capable of "sustained" human transmission -- but urged vigilance in order to detect mutations.

"Based on available information, it appears that this virus does not have the ability to spread easily from person to person, and therefore the risk of it spreading among humans at the national, regional and international levels is considered to be low," WHO said.

"However, due to the constantly evolving nature of influenza viruses, WHO stresses the importance of global surveillance to detect virological, epidemiological and clinical changes associated with circulating influenza viruses which may affect human (or animal) health."

The two people previously infected reacted differently with one only developing a mild illness while the other became seriously ill, according to WHO. All three patients had been exposed to infected poultry.

The H3N8 virus can jump between animal classes and species and has infected animals ranging from domestic and wild birds to horses, dogs, pigs and seals.

Research by China Agricultural University, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the China Center for Disease Control found the two earlier cases were "spillover infections" that suggested the virus was not able to jump from person to person in a sustainable way.

A wet-market in the city of Wuhan in central China where COVID-19 was first detected has been widely blamed for being the origin of the pandemic that swept the globe in 2020 and 2021 killing millions of people.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said in February that COVID-19 was the result of a leak from a laboratory following a controversial report from the U.S. Energy Department concluded the SARS-CoV-2 virus came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The Energy Department report, which said the certainty of the claim was "low" on the confidence scale used by government agencies, followed claims from other U.S. agencies that the virus was released accidentally.

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