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Russian farmworkers first humans to contract new form of bird flu

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Seven workers at a poultry farm in southern Russia were the first humans to catch the H5N8 strain of avian influenza in humans.

Russia told the World Health Organization that the virus isn’t yet spreading between people, Anna Popova, the country’s public health chief, said Saturday, Bloomberg reported. All of the farmworkers had asymptomatic cases and recovered, she said.

The strain was first reported in November, found in 15 Russian regions among both poultry and wild birds. It was not considered dangerous to humans at first.

“It is not transmitted from person to person,” Popova said. “But only time will tell how soon future mutations will allow it to overcome this barrier.” The world has a chance to prepare for possible mutations and to respond in a timely way to develop tests and vaccines for the strain, she said.

Siberia’s Vector Institute said on Saturday it would start developing human tests and a vaccine against H5N8, RIA news agency reported.

Chickens await vaccination against bird flu at the settlement Peredovoi 62 miles from the Russia's southern city of Stavropol on March 11, 2006.
Chickens await vaccination against bird flu at the settlement Peredovoi 62 miles from the Russia’s southern city of Stavropol on March 11, 2006.
REUTERS/Eduard Korniyenko/File Photo

WHO acknowledged that it received the information from Russia. “We are in discussion with national authorities to gather more information and assess the public health impact of this event,” the organization said in an email to Reuters.

H5N8 has also been found in France, where hundreds of thousands of birds were slaughtered last month to prevent the spread. It was also behind the worst bird flu outbreak in Japan on record in late 2020, and has been found in China, the Middle East and North Africa in recent months, but so far only in poultry.

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