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Two people in China die of bird flu along with three others at the hospital

China has reported two deaths from bird flu after confirming five new cases of H5N6 in which the World Health Organization called for 'urgent' action.

Experts have been concerned about the growing number of cases of bird flu among people in China and have warned that the strain may be more contagious to humans.

Five people - four men and one woman - in Sichuan Province, Zhejiang Province and the Guangxi Autonomous Region were infected with the bird flu strain in 2021, The Sun reported, citing Hong Kong's Ministry of Health.

Two of these people are now dead while the other three are currently in hospital fighting for their lives, officials said in a statement.

Four out of five of the infected people were exposed to live domestic poultry, the statement said. How the fifth was revealed is being investigated.

China has reported two deaths from bird flu after confirming five new cases of H5N6 in which the World Health Organization called for 'urgent' action.  In the photo: Chicken cages in China (file photo)

China has reported two deaths from bird flu after confirming five new cases of H5N6 in which the World Health Organization called for 'urgent' action. In the photo: Chicken cages in China (file photo)

The first person to die of H5N6 in December was a 75-year-old man from Luzhou, Sichuan. He was infected on December 1, driven to the hospital on December 4 and died on December 12.

The second victim was a 54-year-old man from Leshan, Sichuan, who was infected on December 8, hospitalized on December 16 and died on December 24.

A 51-year-old woman from Hangzhou, Zhejiang, fell ill on December 15 and was rushed to hospital three days later. In the statement, her condition was stated as critical.

Two other men from Liuzhou, Guangxi - a 53-year-old and a 28-year-old - were also infected and taken to hospital on December 23. The older man's condition is stated as serious, while the younger man's condition is also critical.

"While local monitoring, prevention and control measures are in place, the CHP plant will remain vigilant and work closely with the World Health Organization and relevant health authorities to monitor recent developments," the statement said.

A total of 63 cases of avian influenza A (H5N6) in humans have been reported in China since 2014. More than half of these were reported in the last six months.

Although the numbers are much lower than the hundreds who were infected with H7N9 in 2017, the infections are serious, leaving many critically ill.

Most of the cases had come into contact with poultry and there are no confirmed cases of human-to-human transmission, the WHO said in October.

It said further investigation was 'urgent' needed to understand the risk and increase in human-to-human transmission.

‘The increase in human cases in China this year is worrying. It is a virus that causes high mortality, said Thijs Kuiken, professor of comparative pathology at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, last year.

In the photo: Workers vaccinate chickens (file photo).  China vaccinates poultry against bird flu, but the vaccine used last year may only partially protect against new viruses, prevent major outbreaks, but allow the virus to continue to circulate

In the photo: Workers vaccinate chickens (file photo). China vaccinates poultry against bird flu, but the vaccine used last year may only partially protect against new viruses, prevent major outbreaks, but allow the virus to continue to circulate

'It could be that this variant is a little more contagious (to humans) ... or there may be more of this virus in poultry at the moment and that's why more people are getting infected.'

China is the world's largest poultry producer and top producer of ducks, acting as a reservoir for influenza virus.

Backyard farms in China are common and many people still prefer to buy live chickens in markets.

China vaccinates poultry against bird flu, but the vaccine used last year may only partially protect against new viruses, prevent major outbreaks, but allow the virus to continue circulating.

There have been fewer than 1,000 cases globally since the virus emerged in the late 1990s. Human-to-human transmission is even rarer.

But because of how viruses evolve, experts are concerned that a bird flu strain could mutate into one that could easily spread between humans and cause a pandemic.

In November, UK health authorities issued a warning to people traveling to China about the risks posed by bird flu.

A virus that kills up to 50% of people ... but transmission is rare: Everything you need to know about bird flu

What is bird flu?

Bird flu or avian flu is a contagious type of flu that spreads among bird species but can rarely infect humans.

Like human flu, there are many strains of bird flu:

The current outbreak in birds in the UK is H5N1, the strain that the infected Briton has.

Where has it been seen in the UK?

A case of bird flu has been detected in a human in the south west of England.

Officials did not reveal the exact location of the case, but the UKHSA said all close personal contacts with the individual have been traced and there is 'no evidence' that the infection has spread to anyone else.

Britain is facing a particularly bad year for bird cases, with around one million to be killed in Lincolnshire - where the virus was first discovered on 11 December.

Exclusion sites were located around Mablethorpe, Alford and South Elkington in the region.

There have also been outbreaks in North Yorkshire and Pocklington in East Yorkshire.

How deadly is the virus?

Mortality rates for bird flu in humans have been estimated to be as high as 50 percent.

However, because transmission to humans is so rare, fewer than 500 deaths from bird flu have been reported to the World Health Organization since 1997.

Paul Wigley, Professor of Bird Infection and Immunity at the University of Liverpool, said: 'The advice from APHA and UKHSA on contact with infected birds is sensible and should be followed.

"The risk of wider infection in the general public remains low."

Can it be transmitted from birds to humans?

Cases of bird-to-human transmission are rare and do not usually spread to human-to-human.

Avian influenza is spread by close contact with an infected bird or the body of one.

This may include:

  • touching infected birds
  • touch of excrement or bedding
  • killing or preparation of infected poultry for cooking

Professor Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading, said: 'Transmission of bird flu to humans is rare as it requires direct contact between an infected, normally dead bird and the person concerned.

“It is a risk to the therapists who are charged with disposing of carcasses after an outbreak, but the virus does not spread in general and poses a small threat.

'It does not behave like the seasonal flu we are used to.

"Despite the current growing concern about viruses, there is no risk of chicken or eggs and no need for public alarm."

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of bird flu usually take three to five days to show up with the most common creature:

  • a very high temperature
  • or feeling hot or shaky
  • sore muscles
  • headache
  • cough or shortness of breath
.

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