An uptick in bird flu cases in China this year is alarming virologists who say a more infectious strain of the potentially deadly virus could be spreading.
There have been 21 human infections linked to the H5N6 strain of the bird flu in China this year — compared to the five reported in 2020, according to the World Health Organization.
Experts told Reuters the strain appears to have changed and may be more infectious to people.
The WHO said further investigation was “urgently” needed to understand the risks and the rise in human infection.
So far, there are no confirmed cases of human-to-human transmission of H5N6, according to WHO.
Most of the confirmed cases out of China have been linked to poultry contact.
The latest reported case involved a 60-year-old woman who was admitted to a hospital in critical condition in Hunan province on Oct. 13, officials said.
“The increase in human cases in China this year is of concern. It’s a virus that causes high mortality,” Thijs Kuiken, professor of comparative pathology at Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, told Reuters.
“It could be that this variant is a little more infectious (to people) … or there could be more of this virus in poultry at the moment and that’s why more people are getting infected.”
There have been no H5N6 outbreaks reported in poultry in China since February 2020.
At least 10 of the cases are genetically similar to the H5N8 virus that spread through European poultry farms last winter, which experts say could mean the latest H5N6 infections in China are a new variant.
The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention has not commented on the uptick in H5N6 human cases.
With Post wires
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