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Russia said on Saturday its scientists had discovered the first case of transmission of the H5N8 strain of avian flu to humans and alerted the World Health Organization.

On television viewing, the head of the Russian health watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, Anna Popova, said scientists at the vector laboratory had isolated the genetic material of the strain from seven workers at a poultry farm in southern Russia, where an outbreak among birds was recorded in December.

The workers had no serious health consequences, she added.

“Information on the world’s first human flu (H5N8) transmission has already been sent to the World Health Organization,” said Popova.

There are several subtypes of avian influenza viruses.

While the highly contagious strain H5N8 is deadly to birds, it has never been reported to have spread to humans.

Popova praised “the important scientific discovery” and said “time will tell” whether the virus can continue to mutate.

“Finding these mutations when the virus is not yet able to transmit from person to person gives all of us around the world time to prepare for possible mutations and respond appropriately and in a timely manner,” said Popova.

People can become infected with avian flu viruses and swine flu viruses such as avian flu subtypes A (H5N1) and A (H7N9) and swine flu subtypes such as A (H1N1).

According to the WHO, humans usually become infected through direct contact with animals or contaminated environments, and there is no sustained human transmission.

H5N1 in humans can cause serious illness and has a 60 percent death rate.

Top secret laboratory

In Koltsovo, outside the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, the vector state virology and biotechnology center has developed one of several Russian coronavirus vaccines.

During the Soviet era, the top-secret laboratory carried out secret biological weapons research and was still stockpiling viruses from Ebola to smallpox.

Vector chief Rinat Maksyutov said on television that the lab was ready to begin developing test kits that could detect potential cases of H5N8 in humans and begin work on a vaccine.

The Soviet Union was a scientific powerhouse, and Russia has tried to regain leadership in vaccine research under President Vladimir Putin.

Russia registered the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in August, months before Western competitors and even before large-scale clinical trials.

After initial skepticism in the West, the Lancet Journal released results earlier this month showing that the Russian vaccine – named after the Soviet-era satellite – is safe and effective.

Avian flu has raged in several European countries, including France, where hundreds of thousands of birds were killed to try to stop the infection.

Russia is ready to start testing coronavirus vaccines on humans in June

© 2021 AFP

Quote: Russia says the first human case of H5N8 avian flu (2021, February 20) was reported on February 21, 2021 from .html retrieved

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