China detects first human case of H3N8 avian flu

For the first time, a young Chinese boy has tested positive for the H3N8 strain of the bird flu virus. But the risks of large-scale transmission are low.

China claims to have detected the first case of H3N8 avian flu in humans, but health authorities say the risk of human-to-human transmission is low. The H3N8 strain is known to infect horses, dogs and seals, but had not yet been detected in humans.

China’s health ministry said on Tuesday that a four-year-old boy, living in central China’s Henan province, tested positive for the H3N8 strain after being hospitalized in early April with a fever and other symptoms.

Infected by birds

The patient’s family raises chickens and lives in an area populated by wild ducks. The boy was infected directly by the birds, the health ministry said, adding that tests carried out on people close to the patient revealed “no abnormalities”.

Also according to the ministry, the case of the boy results from a “punctual inter-species transmission” and “the risk of large-scale transmission is low”. He nevertheless called not to approach dead or sick birds and to consult in case of fever or respiratory symptoms.

Precedents related to other strains

Cases of bird flu transmission between humans are extremely rare. The H5N1 and H7N9 strains, detected in 1997 and 2013 respectively, were the main cause of human cases of bird flu, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to an American study published in 2012, the H3N8 strain would have caused fatal pneumonia in more than 160 seals along the American coasts the previous year.

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