Avian flu: renewed vigilance after human cases in Asia

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Bird flu: renewed vigilance after human cases in Asia

WHO epidemiologist Sylvie Briand. (File photo)

A Cambodian whose little girl died of avian flu has also just been declared positive. The announcement is of concern to the World Health Organization (WHO), which warns, however, that it is too early to suggest human-to-human transmission.

The situation related to avian flu is worrying, said Friday a WHO official, epidemiologist Sylvie Briand.

This is the first time the agency has expressed this level of concern since the start of the current outbreak of avian flu, which is caused by the H5N1 virus and has led to the slaughter of tens of millions of birds in the world for more than a year.

However, the WHO does not change in the state its position on the risk to humans. It remains low, because nothing has yet proven a greater danger of seeing a new pandemic emerge after COVID.

But recent news explains WHO's fears. In Cambodia, an eleven-year-old girl died a few days ago of avian flu.

The child, from a remote village in the province of Prey Veng, had fallen ill in mid-February with symptoms of fever, cough and dry throat. She died less than a week later at a children's hospital in the capital Phnom Penh, the kingdom's first bird flu-related death in nine years.

It is not this tragedy which, in itself, explains the concerns of the experts: sporadic cases are well documented in humans (a little less than 900 over the past 20 years) and, if anything, they are very deadly, they are usually caused by direct transmission from a bird.

New here is the announcement on Friday by the Cambodian authorities that the girl's father also tested positive for H5N1. This opens up the possibility of human-to-human transmission and, therefore, a potential risk of an epidemic.

One inevitably wonders what happened: could the first case have transmitted the disease to other humans? admitted Ms. Briand, responsible for the prevention of pandemics within the WHO.

Still, for the moment, it is too early to know if it is #x27;is a transmission between humans or if it is linked to a common exposure to the same environment, she nuanced.

We can, in fact, widely imagine that both the father and the daughter were contaminated through contact with animals. Dead wild birds were, in any case, found near a lake near the village where the family lives.

The situation therefore remains uncertain and the WHO is closely monitoring the investigations carried out in Cambodia to trace the origin of the cases.

In the event that transmission is confirmed between humans, the agency promises that a series of measures would be ready to be immediately implemented to prevent a spread.

It It would first be a question of treating (and) isolating the declared cases, identifying the people who have been in contact with them and administering antivirals to them, detailed Ms. Briand.

< p class="e-p">And of course, we will consider a possible extension of contaminations, preparing neighboring regions and countries for the possibility of human-to-human transmission, she added.< /p>

The Cambodian cases add to other recent concerns that the virus could cause outbreaks beyond birds alone.

In Spain, a farm of 50,000 mink had to be culled after multiple cases of bird flu. In Russia, seals have tested positive for the disease, after 2,500 of them were found dead near the Caspian Sea.

In both cases, in particularly in Spain, infection is suspected to have occurred between mammals. But this hypothesis remains to be confirmed and many experts call for vigilance without alarmism.

The risk remains very low for humans, but it is important to continue to monitor the circulation of the virus in birds and mammals, doing everything to reduce the number of infections, virologist Jonathan Ball reacted to the Science Media Center on Friday.

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