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Health Alert: First Known Human Case of Alarmingly Deadly Bird Virus Reported in Mexico

WHO Confirms New Deadly Strain of Bird Flu in Mexico
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed a new fatal strain of bird flu that has already killed a man in Mexico.

Jun. 11 2024, Published 9:02 a.m. ET

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A person in Mexico has died after contracting the first known human case of H5N2 bird flu.

The incident marks the first time an individual in Mexico has been infected by any type of influenza A(H5) virus, as recently reported by the World Health Organization (WHO).

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This category of virus also includes H5N1, which is currently affecting U.S. dairy cows and recently infected three people who had close contact with cattle.

H5N1, when it infects humans, has resulted in severe pneumonia and death in at least 50 percent of cases. The recent fatality in Mexico indicates that H5N2 can also be deadly to humans.

The spread of bird flu to people is concerning because these viruses can be fatal and, with each transmission to humans, there's a chance they could mutate and potentially spread more easily between humans. Currently, no A(H5) viruses have the ability to sustain human-to-human transmission, but this could change in the future, according to the WHO.

For now, the organization assesses the current risk to the general population from H5N2 as low, based on available information.

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The case in Mexico involved a 59-year-old who experienced fever, shortness of breath, diarrhea, nausea, and general malaise in mid-April. He sought medical help at a hospital in Mexico City on April 24 but died the same day due to complications from his condition.

He had multiple underlying health issues and had been bedridden for three weeks before showing symptoms of bird flu, according to his family.

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A sample of the patient's respiratory fluids taken on April 24 confirmed the presence of H5N2. This virus is similar to H5N1, sharing the H5 protein on its surface, but differing slightly in the shape of the neuraminidase (N) protein.

WHO noted that the patient had no recent contact with poultry or other animals. Typically, people contract bird flu through contact with infected or dead animals or materials contaminated by them.

H5N2 has been spreading among poultry in Mexico, which might have facilitated the transmission to humans. Mexican authorities are investigating the source of the infection.

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None of the patient's close contacts have tested positive for bird flu. WHO emphasized that this case does not alter their current recommendations on public health measures and influenza surveillance.

To reduce the risk of bird flu, it's advised to avoid contact with sick and dead animals and to regularly wash hands with soap and water. In the U.S., dairy workers are advised to wear personal protective equipment around potentially sick animals. Authorities have also warned against drinking raw milk due to potential risks.

Overall, the risk of bird flu transmission to the general public remains low, and such infections are rare. Existing antiviral drugs for seasonal flu can help treat infections caused by A(H5) viruses.

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