Monday, September 25, 2023

Russian poultry workers first ever infected with H5N8 bird flu

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By David B. Strickland

Poultry Times editor

MOSCOW — Seven workers at a poultry farm in the southern portion of the Russian Federation are the first noted to have ever contracted H5N8 avian influenza. The transmission is described as having spread bird-to-person, and there are no current signs of it moving person-to-person, authorities say.

The Russian News Agency, TASS, has reported that the incident was promptly notified to the World Health Organization (WHO) and all protection protocols were put into place.

TASS cited Anna Popova, head of Russia’s Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing.

“So far we can see that the novel agent of the A (H5N8) bird flu is capable of transmission from birds to humans — it crossed the interspecies barrier. Yet as of today, this version of a flu virus is not transmitted from human to human,” Popova said to TASS. “All seven people . . . are in good health, the clinical course of the disease was very mild. Yet at the same time our scientists managed to see changes in the human body and an immune response to the encounter with this virus in all seven workers of this poultry farm. Today they are in good health and back then they were feeling well too, the disease ended rather quickly.”

Popova has added that her Russian health authority group is working with national authorities to gain more information about the infections.

She said that “time will tell how soon subsequent mutations will allow it to cross (the human-to-human barrier). And added that the scientific community now must undertake the necessary measures to counteract this potential new health threat.

This novel stain of bird flu, H5N8, has been detected in many poultry farms spanning across several European nations since late 2019. It was detected in Poland in December 2019. In a few months it was detected in Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia and Bulgaria. In October 2020, it was detected in wild birds in the Netherlands. By the end of 2020, it had been found in wild birds in France, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Chickens and turkeys were culled in the millions to stop the spread of the disease on poultry farms. These infections in Russia are the first time it has been reported in humans.

Poultry safe to eat

The International Poultry Council, in response to this outbreak, has made a statement reassuring consumers that poultry products remain safe to eat.

“Based upon scientific understanding of avian influenza, chicken and other poultry products are safe to eat if cooked properly, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization,” the IPC noted. “No birds from flocks with the disease should enter the food chain . . . and consumers can remain confident in the safety of poultry meat and in the efforts of the poultry industry to guarantee safety and security of its customers.”

The IPC added that, “In Russia, authorities responded promptly to the incident, implementing measures to protect humans and animals and to minimize risks, ensuring that the situation did not progress. All seven people affected are in good health and the clinical course of the disease was very mild, authorities confirmed.”

The council also noted that the poultry industry worldwide works with governmental authorities to identify and monitor any bird flu risks to workers, as well as poultry flocks.

“In certain rare situations, individuals who have frequent and prolonged contact with poultry species — mainly people working in the sector — have become infected with the avian influenza virus, as occurred in this case,” IPC said. “This accidental infection is self-limiting because the infected person is unlikely to pass the virus to anyone else. Governments and industry monitor specifically for the potential transfer of avian influenza to humans, and act accordingly to eliminate such risks. And, as noted here, the virus cannot be transferred from one human to another.”

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