India probes its first human death from bird flu

July 22, 2021: India is investigating its first documented human death from bird flu after an 11-year-old boy fell ill earlier this month, the health ministry said.

The boy was admitted to the Prime Minister’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi on July 2, an official statement said on Wednesday.

The statement said health workers treating patients and the boy’s family have been isolated, and authorities have begun tracking the contact. He said that in Haryana, the boy’s home state in northern India, the Animal Husbandry Department has not found any suspected cases of bird flu but has stepped up surveillance.

The Ministry of Health said that the process of sequencing and isolation of the virus is underway and an epidemiological investigation has been launched.

The boy lived in Gurgaon on the outskirts of the capital, New Delhi, and also suffered from leukemia and pneumonia, AFP reported on Thursday. Deaths from the H5N1 strain of bird flu virus indicate a potential new threat to the world’s second most populous country battling the coronavirus epidemic, which has infected more than 31 million people and killed more than 400,000 people.

India has seen more than half a dozen bird flu outbreaks in poultry in the past 20 years, all of which were brought under control, with no human cases reported in the country previously.

Avian influenza occurs mainly in birds and poultry. In 2008, millions of poultry were culled in India.

But cases of transmission between humans are extremely rare.

H5N1 first broke out in 1997, then spread between 2003 and 2011, while H7N9 was first detected in 2013.

Two strains of bird flu, H5N1 and H7N9, first found in 2013, led to human contamination in Asia through infected birds.

H7N9 has infected 1,668 people and killed 616 since 2013, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

In the Indian case, the ministry said, the virus belonged to the H5Nx subtype, considered worrying as they have proven to evolve into highly dangerous strains.

Last month, China revealed its first human case of bird flu and in February, Russia detected the disease among workers at a poultry factory.

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