China has reported 21 human infections with the H5N6 subtype of avian influenza in 2021 to the World Health Organization (WHO). This is a jump in infections because in 2020 there were only five cases reported. What is worrying scientists is that these new infections are leaving many critically ill.
The patients infected with the possible new strain are falling into more critical conditions than those infected with H7N9 in 2017.
At least six people have died so far in China.
Thijs Kuiken, professor of comparative pathology at Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, said: “The increase in human cases in China this year is of concern.
“It’s a virus that causes high mortality.
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This has raised concern among experts who say a previously circulating strain of the deadly pathogen appears to have changed.
The virologists believe this new strain appears to be more infectious to people.
China is the world’s biggest poultry producer and these concentrated farms act as a reservoir for flu viruses.
A study published on the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website last month said the “increasing genetic diversity and geographical distribution of H5N6 pose a serious threat to the poultry industry and human health”.
Four of the bird flu cases in Sichuan province raised poultry at home.
These people had been in contact with dead birds. Another had bought a duck from a live poultry market a week before developing symptoms.
China regularly vaccinates poultry against avian influenza.
However, the vaccine used last year may only partially protect against new emerging viruses.
This bird flu virus has not been wiped out in Chinese farm populations.
What is concerning virologists is that a new strain could be circulating in poultry stock.