Woman tests positive for bird flu weeks after child died

What is Bird Flu?

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A woman has tested positive for bird flu just days after an 11-year-old girl died from the disease, according to reports. The 53-year-old woman tested positive in the Jiangsu province in eastern China, according to BNO news agency. She is said to have tested positive after coming into contact with poultry and developing symptoms in late January.

Experts said this was had resulted from animal-to-human rather than human-to-human transmission.

But virologist Erik Karlsson, who works at the Pasteur Institute of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, confirmed that samples taken from the girl showed some clear changes in the virus which have made it more transmissible.

Speaking to Nature.com, he said: “The virus belongs to clade, which is an endemic strain in the region.

“It is the same strain that resulted in a number of infections in people in 2013 and 2014 in Cambodia, and it has been detected intermittently in poultry ever since then, including in chickens in live bird markets.”

Speaking after the death, a top World Health Organisation (WHO) official said the recent global spread of the virus and human infections are “worrying”.

Dr Sylvie Briand, the WHO’s director for epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention, said the U.N. agency is “in close communication with the Cambodian authorities to understand more about the outbreak.”

Speaking ahead of a meeting in Geneva on influenza vaccines, Briand called the global situation “worrying” given the “wide spread of the virus in birds around the world, and the increasing reports of cases in mammals, including humans.”

She added that WHO “takes the risk from this virus seriously” and “urges heightened vigilance from all countries”.

The WHO has also provided the Cambodian health ministry with 3,000 doses of Tamiflu, an antiviral medication used to treat symptoms of flu viruses.

At present, there is a ban on vaccinating birds against the H5N1 strain of bird flu. But with tens of millions of birds at risk and more than 200 million already dying, the Government may be forced to enact a major change of policy.

While cases in the UK are being looked at, Professor Ian Brown, scientific services director at the government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), has warned that the global spread is particularly concerning.

He noted that the recent incidents of mass deaths in seals in the Caspian Sea and sea lions in Peru could signal mammal-to-mammal transmission. This would put the word in “new territory” and bring the prospect of a new pandemic closer.

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Bird flu has been “jumping from birds from all sorts of different mammals, including whales even”, Dr Justine Butler, head of research at Viva!, previously told Express.co.uk.

It has set up a new technical group of experts and senior officials from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), APHA, and academia that carries out “weekly reviews” of bird flu’s risk to humans.

The group has said the current threat is at Level 3 – which means there are changes in the virus genome that result in mammal-to-mammal transmission. If there was evidence of mammal-to-mammal transmission, the risk would be upped to Level 4.

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