Humans can catch bird flu, WHO confirms first fatal human case of bird flu A(H5N2)

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This was the first laboratory-confirmed human case of infection with A(H5N2) subtype of bird flu reported globally and the first H5 virus infection in a person reported in Mexico.

The World Health Organization said on Wednesday a death was caused by the first laboratory-confirmed human case of infection with a subtype of avian influenza.

WHO said the 59-year-old resident of Mexico had died on April 24 after developing a fever, shortness of breath, diarrhoea, nausea and general discomfort.

Humans can catch bird flu, but not easily. Avian flu has been around and infecting wild birds and poultry since 1996. There have been nearly 1,000 known cases of bird flu in humans (889 between 2003 and May 3, 2024, according to the World Health Organization). But the virus has never spread between people, Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, tells Yahoo Life.

Instead, infections happen as a result of what scientists call “spillover” from humans to animals, Erin Sorrell, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life. People are only catching bird flu after having contact — most likely a lot of close, prolonged contact — with infected animals or the farm equipment and materials the animals were in close contact with.

The infected dairy farm workers were “at eye level with the udders in the milking process, so, if they don’t have proper eye protection, that is a perfect route of infection,” Sorrell says. “Either their eyes had direct contact with drops of milk or their hands were contaminated and then they rubbed their eyes.” Eye tissue is also less equipped with the types of immune processes that help other parts of the body, including the respiratory tract, fight off infections, making the eyes somewhat more susceptible, Sorrell adds.

So far, there haven’t been mutations to the virus that would make it better at infecting people or spreading between humans. “For this virus to become adapted in a way that it can be transmitted by humans to humans is going to take a number of changes, and we have not seen those changes,” Osterholm says.

The victim had no history of exposure to poultry or other animals, WHO said. Cases of A(H5N2) subtype of avian influenza have been reported in poultry in Mexico.

The person had multiple underlying medical conditions and had been bedridden for three weeks, for other reasons, prior to the onset of acute symptoms, WHO said.

The World Health Organization said on Wednesday a death was caused by the first laboratory-confirmed human case of infection with a subtype of avian influenza.

WHO said the 59-year-old resident of Mexico had died on April 24 after developing a fever, shortness of breath, diarrhoea, nausea and general discomfort.

This was the first laboratory-confirmed human case of infection with A(H5N2) subtype of bird flu reported globally and the first H5 virus infection in a person reported in Mexico.

The victim had no history of exposure to poultry or other animals, WHO said. Cases of A(H5N2) subtype of avian influenza have been reported in poultry in Mexico.

The person had multiple underlying medical conditions and had been bedridden for three weeks, for other reasons, prior to the onset of acute symptoms, WHO said.

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