WHO confirms first human case of bird flu in India since 2019

The child was exposed to poultry at home and in his surroundings, but there was no known person reporting symptoms of respiratory illness among his family and other contacts.
A worker sprays disinfectant inside a poultry farm as a precaution against bird flu (File photo | PTI)
A worker sprays disinfectant inside a poultry farm as a precaution against bird flu (File photo | PTI)

NEW DELHI: A four-year-old boy in West Bengal was infected by the H9N2 strain of the bird flu virus, confirmed the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Tuesday. This is the first case of H9N2 or bird flu in India since 2019.

The child was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit (ICU) of a local hospital due to persistent severe respiratory issues, high fever and abdominal cramps in February, and was discharged three months later after diagnosis and treatment, the WHO said.

The child was exposed to poultry at home and in his surroundings, but there was no known person reporting symptoms of respiratory illness among his family and other contacts.

The patient tested positive for influenza B and adenovirus at the Virus Research and Diagnostic Laboratory at the local government hospital in February.

On March 3, with a recurrence of severe respiratory distress, he was referred to another government hospital and was admitted to the pediatric ICU and intubated.

Two days later, a nasopharyngeal swab was sent to the Kolkata Virus Research and Diagnostic Laboratory and tested positive for influenza A (not sub-typed) and rhinovirus. The same sample was sent to the National Influenza Centre at the National Institute of Virology in Pune for subtyping.

On April 26, the sample was sub-typed as influenza A(H9N2) through a real-time polymerase chain reaction.

On May 1, the child was discharged from the hospital with oxygen support.

A worker sprays disinfectant inside a poultry farm as a precaution against bird flu (File photo | PTI)
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Information on the vaccination status and details of antiviral treatment were not available at the time of reporting, the WHO said.

Further sporadic human cases could occur as this virus is one of the most prevalent avian influenza viruses circulating in poultry in different regions.

According to Dr Rajeev Jayadevan, former president Indian Medical Association (IMA), Cochin, said that it is important to understand that infection by this particular virus is known to be largely mild not only in birds, but also in humans.

This is unlike other bird flu viruses like H5N1 which can cause up to 50% mortality in man, he said.

“More than the possibility of severe illness, the concern here is if this virus infects human beings along with another human influenza virus at the same time, mixing of genetic material could occur, creating influenza viruses that never existed before. Therefore, it is important to minimise human infection from bird flu by avoiding contact with poultry, especially during times of a bird flu outbreak in the region,” he told this paper.

Bird flu outbreaks in domestic poultry are common, mainly because of visiting migratory birds that share a common food and water source with poultry.

“These visitors bring different types of bird flu viruses with them, and this cannot be stopped. Culling of infected poultry is the standard practice to reduce spread. Vaccine against H9N2 in poultry has been developed. It is important to avoid panic but at the same time to follow precautions while handling poultry,” he said.

“We should keep a close surveillance of the Genome of the virus. This will help us track the movement of the virus across the world and also monitor the changes that occur with time,” he further said.

According to the International Health Regulations, a human infection caused by a novel influenza A virus subtype is an event that has the potential for high public health impact and must be notified to the WHO.

The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention explains the bird flu infection as a type of infection caused by avian influenza Type A viruses. Usually, it is expected to affect wild aquatic birds, domestic poultry and other bird and animal species. However, human cases of bird flu infection are not unusual and have been reported in the past.

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