Russian Scientists Discover First Cases of H5N8 Strain of Bird Flu in Humans

Poultry affected by the H5N8 virus, also known as bird flu from a poultry farm in Poland, 2016. source: AFP

On Saturday, Russia said its scientists had detected the first case of transmission of the H5N8 strain of avian flu to humans and had alerted the World Health Organisation, AFP reported.

“Information about the world’s first case of transmission of the avian flu (H5N8) to humans has already been sent to the World Health Organisation,” the head of Russia’s health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, Anna Popova, said in televised remarks.

The highly contagious strain is lethal for birds but has never before been reported to have spread to humans. According to BBC, other strains of bird flu occasionally infect humans and have led to deaths – but this is the first report of the H5N8 strain being passed on.

Popova said that scientists at Russia’s Vektor laboratory had isolated genetic material of the strain from seven workers of a poultry farm in Southern Russia, where an outbreak was recorded among the birds in December.

However, the workers did not suffer any health consequences, she added. Popova praised “the important scientific discovery,” saying “time will tell” if the virus can mutate.

“The discovery of these mutations when the virus has not still acquired an ability to transmit from human to human gives us all, the entire world, time to prepare for possible mutations and react in an adequate and timely fashion,” Popova said.

The Vektor State Virology and Biotechnology Center, which is located in Koltsovo outside of the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, has developed one of Russia’s several coronavirus vaccines.

During the Soviet era, the top-secret lab conducted secret biological weapons research and store stockpiles viruses from Ebola to smallpox.