LONDON: The World Health Organisation (WHO) is working with Cambodian authorities after two confirmed human cases of H5N1 bird flu were found among one family in the country.
Describing the situation as “worrying” due to the recent rise in cases in birds and mammals, Dr Sylvie Briand, the director of epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention, said the WHO was reviewing its global risk assessment in light of the recent developments.
The UN health agency last assessed the risk to humans from avian flu as low earlier this month.
Cambodian authorities on Thursday (Feb 23) reported the death of an 11-year old girl due to H5N1, and began testing 12 of her contacts. Her father, who had been showing symptoms, has also tested positive for the virus.
“The global H5N1 situation is worrying, given the wide spread of the virus in birds around the world and the increasing reports of cases in mammals including humans,” Briand said.
“WHO takes the risk from this virus seriously and urges heightened vigilance from all countries.”
Briand added it was not yet clear whether there had been any human-to-human transmission, which was a key reason to focus on the cases in Cambodia, or if the two cases were due to the “same environmental conditions,” resulting in likely close contact with infected birds or other animals.
A new strain of H5N1, clade 188.8.131.52b, emerged in 2020 and has been causing record numbers of deaths among wild birds and domestic poultry in recent months. It has also infected mammals, raising global concerns.
However, unlike earlier outbreaks of H5N1, which has been around for more than two decades, this subtype is not causing significant illness in people.
So far, only about a half dozen cases have been reported to the WHO in people who had close contact with infected birds, and most of those have been mild.