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Human bird flu infection confirmed in India amid concern over avian flu outbreaks in U.S. farm animals


New Delhi — As a string of recent bird flu cases in U.S. cattle and poultry in several states draws warnings about the risks of possible widespread transmission to humans, India has had its second-ever human avian influenza infection confirmed by the World Health Organization. The U.N. health agency confirmed that a suspected case, a 4-year-old child in the eastern state of West Bengal, was infected with the H9N2 avian flu virus.

India’s first human avian flu case was confirmed in 2019. The cases in India involve a different bird flu virus than the one infecting animals and several people in the U.S., where it is the H5N1 strain spreading through herds.

The 4-year-old Indian child was first diagnosed with hyperreactive airway disease, but he developed a fever and abdominal pain in the last week of January this year. A few days later, he developed seizures and his respiratory distress continued. The fever got worse along with the abdominal cramps, and the child was admitted to a pediatric intensive care unit.

The hospital diagnosed him with post-infectious bronchiolitis caused by viral pneumonia, and he later tested positive for influenza B and adenovirus, for which he underwent treatment for about a month before being discharged on February 28, the WHO said.

His condition did not improve at home, however, and he was admitted to a different hospital on March 3. Nasal swabs confirmed an influenza infection, which the WHO has now confirmed as influenza-A sub-type H9N2, the avian flu.

The patient was discharged from the hospital, with ongoing oxygen support, on May 1.

WHO said the child had exposure to poultry at and around his home, and it warned that “further sporadic human cases could occur as this virus is one of the most prevalent avian influenza viruses circulating in poultry in different regions.”

A health worker sprays sanitizer outside a house as a precautionary measure against the bird flu in the Sola area, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, India, in a March 5, 2021 file photo.


The Indian government has formed teams of public health officials to monitor flu symptoms in poultry flocks and increase awareness of the disease’s symptoms and prevention methods.

India has witnessed several avian flu outbreaks since 2006, when the first case was detected.

The WHO says humans can be infected with the virus if they come in direct — and in some cases indirect — contact with infected animals. Symptoms of human infection range from mild, flu-like symptoms and eye irritation to severe, acute respiratory disease and even death, the WHO says.

Third human case of bird flu tied to dairy cattle outbreak


The U.N.’s global health agency has urged people to “minimize contact with animals” where infections are suspected, avoid contact with any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with animal feces, and to “strictly avoid contact with sick or dead animals” and practice hand hygiene.

Children, older people and pregnant and postpartum women need to be extra cautious, the WHO says.

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