A Chinese woman who became the first person to ever die from the H3N8 strain of bird flu, is believed to have caught the killer strain from a wet market.
The 56-year-old, from the Guangdong province, first became ill on February 22 and was admitted to the hospital with severe pneumonia on March 3.
She died 13 days later on March 16.
But officials understand she caught the virus from a wet market where she spent time before becoming ill, after samples taken from the market tested positive for influenza A(H3).
She is only the third person ever to officially be diagnosed with H3N8, which is one of the most common strains in birds but is poorly-adapted to infect people.
It is thought the woman caught the virus from a wet market where she spent time before becoming ill, after samples taken from the market tested positive for influenza A(H3)
The woman, from the Guangdong province, first became ill on February 22. She was admitted to the hospital with severe pneumonia on March 3 and died on March 16
So far, no close contacts of the woman have any symptoms of an infection.
The WHO was not informed about the case until March 27 – a month after Chinese health officials were aware of the infection.
China has previously faced criticism for not making important information about Covid spread in its nation available.
It comes as vaccine makers have said they are ‘standing ready’ for a human bird flu pandemic as fears mount about a zoonotic spillover.
The Chinese patient had several underlying conditions and a history of exposure to live birds prior to falling sick, as well as previous wild bird presence around her home.
The case was picked up through the World Health Organization’s severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) surveillance system, which tracks these types of infections.
The H3N8 variant is common in birds, horses and dogs and has even been found in seals, but it has rarely found its way into the human population.
Two young boys were struck down with the same virus in April and May last year in China in unlinked cases – but both survived.
Like other forms of bird flu, human infections can occur when enough virus gets into a person’s eyes, nose, mouth or is inhaled.
Although there have only been a limited number of cases of this strain globally, the illness is believed to be similar to other bird flus in people.
Usual symptoms include fever, fatigue, nausea and other flu-like symptoms.
Sufferers may experience diarrhea, sickness, stomach pain, chest pain and bleeding from the nose and gums, and pink eye.
The WHO said: ‘Since avian influenza viruses continue to be detected in poultry populations, further sporadic human cases are expected in the future.’
China’s slow reporting of this infection draws parallels to the nation’s initial response to the Covid pandemic.
The country has been accused of covering up early cases and has not been compliant in the fight for the virus’s origin.
Dr Steven Salzberg, a professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University, told DailyMail.com: ‘Of course China should report any such cases promptly, as should any country, but occasional avian influenza cases happen every year in China.
‘The (much) bigger problem is the continuing practice in China of selling birds and other animals for food at live animal markets. Scientists have been saying for years (decades now) that China should shut down these markets, but they don’t.
‘So a good question is whether this case originated from a live animal market. The [WHO] report is vague on that question.’
Back in 2003, China was accused of covering up details about the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
The Chinese government was criticized for its slowness in releasing information about the outbreak after a Beijing hospital was shut down.
This case is among a spate of human bird flu cases that have emerged in the early parts of 2023.
Earlier this year, a Cambodian man and his daughter were diagnosed with H5N1, another strain of bird flu.
Their cases sparked international concern, with many experts fearing they signaled the virus had mutated to infect people better after tearing through the world’s bird population.
The bird flu outbreak, which began early last year, is the biggest in history, affecting more than 200 million domestic birds globally, on top of countless wild birds.
It has already spilled into mammals like mink, foxes, raccoons and bears, sparking fears it may soon acquire worrying new mutations that would allow it to cause a human pandemic.
Further testing found the Cambodian family did not have the H5N1 strain rapidly spreading among the world’s wild birds — but instead a variant known to spread locally in the Prey Veng province they resided in.
There has only been one case of a British person becoming infected with H5N1 since the ongoing outbreak took off in October 2021.
Alan Gosling, a retired engineer in Devon, caught the virus in early 2022 after his ducks, some of which lived inside his home, became infected.
No one else is known to have caught the virus.
People with close or prolonged unprotected contact – not wearing respiratory and eye protection – with infected birds or places where sick birds or their mucous, saliva, or feces have been contaminated might be at greater risk of bird flu virus infection.
A human is unlikely to catch the virus from eating poultry and game birds because it is heat-sensitive, and properly cooking the poultry will kill the virus.
The symptoms in humans are high fever, a cough, sore throat, muscle aches and a general feeling of malaise.
Additional early symptoms could include pain in the abdomen and chest and diarrhea.
It can quickly develop into serious respiratory illness, including shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and pneumonia.
People may also suffer an altered mental state or seizures.
In the UK, the Animal and Plant Health Agency, an arm of DEFRA, is reviewing the bird flu risk to humans every week.
The group is also looking at potential candidate vaccines for humans if the virus spills over into people.
The UKHSA has currently set the threat level to level three, given there is ‘evidence’ of changes in the virus genome that could trigger ‘mammalian infection’, it said.
Any ‘sustained’ mammal-to-mammal transmission of the pathogen would raise the threat level to four, while human-to-human would push it to five.
The UKHSA also confirmed last month that it had updated its modelling scenarios of how an outbreak among humans could take off in the UK.
All of the scenarios were assumed to have an R rate — a measure of a virus’ ability to spread — of between 1.2 and 2.
This means that every 10 infected people would pass the virus on to 12 to 20 others and that the outbreak would double every three to 11 days.
Under a worst case scenario, the scientists estimate up to one in 20 people who catch bird flu would die due to the virus.
An infected bird might appear lethargic, stop eating, have swollen body parts, and cough and sneeze. Other birds might die suddenly without any symptoms.
Bird flu outbreak: Everything you need to know
What is it?
Avian flu is an infectious type of influenza that spreads among birds.
In rare cases, it can be transmitted to humans through close contact with a dead or alive infected bird.
This includes touching infected birds, their droppings or bedding. People can also catch bird flu if they kill or prepare infected poultry for eating.
Wild birds are carriers, especially through migration.
As they cluster together to breed, the virus spreads rapidly and is then carried to other parts of the globe.
New strains tend to appear first in Asia, from where more than 60 species of shore birds, waders and waterfowl head off to Alaska to breed and mix with migratory birds from the US. Others go west and infect European species.
Which strains are currently spreading?
H5N1 and H3N8.
So far the virus H5N1 has been detected in some 80million birds and poultry globally since September 2021 — double the previous record the year before.
Not only is the virus spreading at speed, it is also killing at an unprecedented level, leading some experts to say this is the deadliest variant so far.
Millions of chickens and turkeys in the UK have been culled or put into lockdown.
But earlier this year, on March 27, the World Health Organization (WHO) was also informed that a Chinese woman had become the first person to ever die from the H3N8 strain.
The 56-year-old woman from the southern province of Guangdong was the third person known to have been infected with the H3N8 subtype of avian influenza, according to the WHO.
Although rare in people, H3N8 is common in birds, but it causes little to no sign of disease.
It has also infected other mammals.
Can bird flu infect people?
Yes, but only 868 human cases of bird flu have been reported to the World Health Organization since 2003.
The risk to people has been deemed ‘low’.
But people are strongly urged not to touch sick or dead birds because the virus is lethal, killing 56 per cent of people it does manage to infect.