In just the past few days, it seems as if the world has become serious about H5N1 influenza, otherwise known as bird flu. There’s even informed speculation by some qualified scientists that human-to-human transmission is likely already occurring.

Food safety and public health are not yet big concerns. Raw milk is more risky than ever, but pasteurized dairy products, eggs, and poultry are all safe to eat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rates the current public health risk as low but oversees the situation and works with states to monitor people with animal exposures.

One example of the world getting serious is Finland taking delivery of 20,000 doses of vaccine for its citizens who are at risk of exposure to an avian influenza strain spreading among farmed and wild animals. 

Health officials in Finland expect to be the first country to take such a step as concerns about the threat the virus poses to people intensify. The Finland vaccine campaign uses the doses of poultry farmers, veterinarians, scientists who study the virus, and those who work on fur farms housing animals like mink and fox, which have been subject to outbreaks. 

In the United States, most attention has surrounded the four humans infected with Bird flu since early 2022. The first human case involved a Colorado poultry worker, reported on April 28, 2022.  The other three human cases stemmed from exposure to dairy cows during April and May this year.

The four human cases in the U.S. reportedly had differing symptoms, but all recovered.

H5N1 influenza, according to the World Health Organization, has a fatality rate of 50 percent, which is much higher than Covid-19. And  H5N1 has caused 463 deaths since the first human case in 1997.

Last week’s report of a 59-year-old male resident of Mexico who died after being infected with a bird flu subtype never before confirmed to have spread to humans, according to WHO. The man had no known exposure to poultry or other animals. His symptoms included nausea, fever and shortness of breath.  He did suffer from other underlying health conditions.

A laboratory with the H5N2 subtype of avian flu formally diagnosed him. The case is the first time a human has been confirmed to be infected with this subtype and the first time an avian H5 virus was confirmed in a person in Mexico.

The UN-related health agency said the Mexican case does not change the current WHO recommendations on public health measures and influenza surveillance, adding that its rating of current risks to the general population is “low.”

Meanwhile, Australia notified WHO of its first human case of H5N1 influenza (clade, in a 2-year-old child probably exposed in India.

The child has no underlying conditions and had traveled to Kolkata, India, in February before returning to Australia. The girl tested positive for H5N1 bird flu and needed hospital intensive care treatment in Australia after returning from India.

“Although the source of exposure to the virus, in this case, is currently unknown, the exposure likely occurred in India,” where the girl had traveled, and where this group of “viruses has been detected in birds in the past,” WHO said. 

The 2-year-old traveled to Kolkata from February 12 to 29. She had no known exposure to sick people or animals in the city. She returned to Australia on March 1 and was admitted to a hospital in the southeastern Victoria state the following day.  The girl is reportedly well, and none of her relatives in Australia or India have developed symptoms.

China has also reported a death from H5N6 avian flu. A 52-year-old woman from the Fujian Province died on April 30 after being treated at Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection for symptoms beginning on April 13.

H5N6 has circulated in China since at least 2014, with 90 human cases being recorded.

The woman who died was exposed to backyard poultry.

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