First-Ever Human Cases of H5N8 Bird Flu Detected in Russia

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The first recorded incident of a bird flu strain, H5N8, in humans was detected in Russia when seven workers at a poultry plant in the country became ill in December, a report by The Guardian reads.

There is no evidence to suggest the strain is being transmitted between humans in its current forms and the workers are now recovered.

"The situation did not develop further," according to Dr. Anna Popova, head of consumer health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor.

However, as was the case with the recently-detected COVID-19 variants, there is a potential for new mutations to make the virus transmissible. Russia has notified the World Health Organization of its findings.

Outbreaks of H5N8 in poultry have been reported in Russia, Europe, China, the Middle East, and North Africa in recent months.

Though other strains of bird flu, or avian influenza, including H5N1, H7N9, and H9N2, have been transmitted to humans before — the WHO states that an individual died from the H5N6 strain in China as recently as December of last year— cases are relatively rare.

Most cases of avian influenza in humans have been linked to direct contact with infected live or dead poultry. When cooked properly poultry meat is generally considered to be safe.

Nevertheless, health officials will be keeping an eye on developments related to the H5N8 strain, which is deadly for birds.

Work already underway on developing a new vaccine 

The Vector Institute in Siberia — which developed Russia's second COVID-19 vaccine — said on Saturday that it will start developing human tests and a vaccine against H5N8, the RIA news agency reported.

"Only time will tell how soon future mutations will allow it to overcome this barrier," Popova explained, referring to the possibility that the strain will eventually be transmissible by humans.

The discovery of the strain in humans "gives us all, the whole world, time to prepare for possible mutations and the possibility to react in a timely way and develop test systems and vaccines," she continued.

With increased awareness regarding animal-to-human transmission due to the ongoing pandemic, several reports on diseases in animals have gained traction worldwide in recent months — just this month, news emerged of a new bacteria linked to a 100 percent fatal disease in chimps that has the potential to jump to humans.

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