A virus that is evolving, capable of traveling thousands of kilometers to Antarctica and infect a 22 month old girl (it happened on February 23 in Hong Kong). The avian flu virus is now scary because, experts explain, that infected little girl, who appears to have had no contact with animals, would demonstrate the pathogen’s ability to transmit from man to man, therefore between human beings and no longer from animal to person. .

WHO: “Avian flu could infect humans more easily”

It reached as far as Antarctica

The new fact is that avian flu has reached Antarctica. The scientists of Severo Ochoa Molecular Biology Center of the Superior Council for Scientific Research (Csic), which depends on the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, confirmed the presence, on February 24, of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus for the first time around the South Pole. The team led by the Csic researcher Antonio Alcamíworking at the Spanish Antarctic base Gabriel de Castilla, on Deception Island, analyzed the viruses found in two samples of Skua (birds belonging to the skua family) that died near the Argentine Antarctic base Primavera.
The samples, specifies the Csic in a note, “were obtained by adopting the maximum protection measures to avoid the transmission of the virus to people, and the viruses present were immediately inactivated to be able to study them in complete safety”. They were subsequently transported by an Argentine ship to the Antarctic base on Deception Island, where they were analyzed by Csic researchers Angela Vazquez and Alcamí.
The analysis demonstrated that the birds were infected with the H5 subtype of avian influenza and that the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus was present in at least one specimen, identified by analyzes with 100% reliability.

What does this discovery tell us

What does all this demonstrate? “The discovery demonstrates for the first time that the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus has reached Antarctica despite the distance and natural barriers that separate it from other continents – the researchers highlight – and will allow the preparation of targeted prevention programs. Furthermore, it could also explain the bird deaths recorded during the Antarctic summer.”
Until now, the more aggressive variant had been found in numerous locations in the northern hemisphere and, since last summer, also in the southern hemisphere. The virus was recently described in the sub-Antarctic islands, but to date, although significant deaths of some birds have been reported in the Antarctic territory, its presence had never been confirmed.

Avian is transforming

This also shows that avian flu is shedding its skin. The virus is becoming, so to speak, more “bold”, attempting that spillover (species jump) that scientists, who have long been busy keeping an eye on it, now concretely fear. The case of the little girl infected in Hong Kong on February 23rd is a lesson.
The 22-month-old baby was infected with an avian influenza A/H9 virus. The confirmation came from Center for Health Protection of the Hong Kong Department of Health. And the little girl’s condition is stable. At the moment, the authorities’ concerns are mainly aimed at the mode of infection: the little girl has not had contact with potentially infected birds nor has she eaten undercooked poultry. It is therefore possible that the virus was transmitted from human to human. The little patient – the authorities report – showed fever and cough as early as February 15th. She was examined in hospital. However, tests on the swab confirmed that it was avian virus and therefore the little girl was transferred to the isolation ward. The investigations are still ongoing.

Bird flu, positive girl in Hong Kong. Human-to-human contagion is feared

When the virus passes from animal to man

Generally, the transmission of the virus between birds occurs through contact with infected feces. Infected ducks, for example, eliminate the virus in their feces: by flying, they disseminate infected material, which can come into contact with healthy birds and infect them.
The avian influenza virus can then be transmitted from company to company, via mechanical means, tools, feed, cages and operators’ clothing. But the most important aspect concerns the fact that avian influenza is a zoonosis, i.e. a disease transmissible from animals to humans. Although this virus belongs to the same family as human influenza, it is not common for bird viruses to infect humans. This occurs in particular circumstances, in which contact between humans and animals is close.
After the notification of the first cases of human infection, l‘World Health Organization alerted individual governments to take measures to protect the population from the risk of an epidemic.
Although numerous cases of infection transmitted from animals to humans are documented (many of which are fatal), no cases of person-to-person contagion have been demonstrated.

How the infection is transmitted

The human infection occurred following direct human contact: with dead or sick specimens from avian influenza; with surfaces or materials contaminated with infected excretions and secretions (for example feces); through the mucous membranes (oral, ocular, nasal) with infected aerosol (due to dispersion of feces of dead birds of the disease into the environment); even consuming undercooked infected meat or eggs can expose you to the risk of contracting the disease: heat kills the virus, and therefore there is no risk in eating properly cooked meat or eggs. Washing your hands after handling meat and eggs is a form of prevention from flu-type infections but also from other germs that can contaminate food.

Disease X, what it is and why it worries the WHO like Covid

by Valentina Arcovio

The spillover risk

But experts fear that the avian virus will become even more capable, so much so that it can pass from person to person without passing through animals. It is the so-called spillover, which also the virologist Fabrizio Pregliascohealth director of the Galeazzi Hospital in Milandoes not feel like excluding.
In 1997 and 2005 there were some cases of contagion between humans in Hong Kong, but it could not be defined as a spillover because the infected people had come into direct contact with animals, therefore it was not a question of a continuous and independent passage of the virus from them “, recalls Pregliasco. And he continues: “The fear of an H5N1 pandemic arising was and still is. Both the arrival of the virus at the South Pole and the presumed direct contagion of the Chinese girl show a disturbing situation, given that this pathogenic variant has become endemic in birds and also in other mammals”.
“What differentiates this virus from avian plague is that the latter has manifested itself in the form of “flares” in the past, while avian flu is now very widespread – underlines Pregliasco -. And this virus has been trying for years, so much so that we thought it capable of generating a pandemic, but Covid has overcome it.” Whether he will be able to do so in the near future? It’s possible. What is worrying is the transversality with which it acts – concludes the virologist -. The Coronavirus experience teaches us that combined animal and human surveillance is essential to keep the situation under control. Without forgetting that we are now able to prepare a vaccine quickly thanks to RNA.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *