First H3N8 Human Bird Flu Death Reported In China

Tanya Taylor
H3N8 is just one of many strains of the bird flu virus. So far, it seems like the disease doesn’t pass between humans, so should we be worried?
birds confined due to H3N6 bird flu outbreak
Bird flu spreads quickly among poultry. Photo: Zoe Schaeffer on Unsplash

On March 27th, The National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China notified the World Health Organisation (WHO) of an H2N8 bird flu human fatality. It’s the first time a person has died from the variation of the disease.  

Many bird flu strains are currently in circulation. Some are more deadly and contagious than others. So, let’s look at the first H3N8 human bird flu death reported in China to discover more about the virus. 

Avian Influenza

H3N8 is a subtype of Avian Influenza, commonly known as bird flu. There are several strains of the virus, and the H5N1 variation is currently at pandemic levels among birds in the USA and UK.

According to Aljazeera, H5N1 is the most deadly strain, with a 53 percent fatality rate in humans – and the second most infectious next to the H739 variation. 

Most bird flu cases come from direct contact with infected poultry, not human-to-human transmission. Depending on the strain and host, bird flu can be asymptomatic or cause symptoms. 

Bird flu symptoms in humans include conjunctivitis, mild flu-like symptoms, severe respiratory disease or death. In rare cases, it may cause gastrointestinal or neurological symptoms. 

H3N8 began circulating in 2002 and can infect horses, dogs and seals. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in 2011, an outbreak of H3N8 killed 162 seals in New England. 

N3N8 is less deadly to poultry and causes few or no symptoms in birds, making it hard to detect. There were no official cases in humans until last year when China reported two cases in April and May. 

Recent H3N8 Cases

The Guangdong Province, China, where the first fatal case of H3N8 was reported. Photo: Loeng Lig | Unsplash

There are only three reported cases of H3N8 in humans, all in China. Last year, two children became infected with the illness after contact with infected birds. One was critical, and the other mild, but both children recovered, and no close contacts were infected. 

The most recent case is the only known human fatality of H3N8. The patient was a 56-year-old woman from the Guangdong province of southeastern China with many underlying health conditions. 

Doctors believe she contracted the virus from a local live market, where tests revealed infected poultry. She also had many wild birds living around her home. 

The woman became ill on February 22nd, was hospitalized on March 3rd with severe pneumonia, and died on March 16th. None of her contacts have developed symptoms. 

China is responding to the situation with enhanced monitoring of the area. They are also raising awareness of the disease and encouraging citizens to be more vigilant about self-protection methods, such as hand washing. 

Is There Cause For Concern?

The WHO recommends washing your hands after contact with birds. Photo: Kelly Sikkema | Unsplash

The WHO labels H3N8 as a low-risk virus because evidence suggests it doesn’t spread from person to person. However, they say that the influenza virus constantly evolves, so global surveillance is crucial, and potentially, there could be more sporadic cases in humans. 

They advise people to avoid high-risk areas, such as live markets, poultry farms or areas with lots of bird feces, and not to eat raw or undercooked poultry. If people enter high-risk areas – they should practice good hand hygiene with washing and sanitizer. 

The WHO also suggests that people should avoid contact with sick or dying animals if they don’t know the cause and should report it to the authorities. They also encourage people working with birds to be extra vigilant about the virus.  


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