Recently, China reported its first human death due to H3N8 avian influenza. As per the World Health Organization (WHO), the woman possibly got infected from live poultry at a market. However, it stated that the risk of further spread is low. The virus is common in birds, yet it has not been detected in humans before 2020 when two cases were discovered in China. The 56-year-old woman had pre-existing conditions of cancer, and has been tested positive after getting admitted to the hospital with severe pneumonia in February. Additionally, the two other cases detected in China had also been exposed to the virus at live poultry trading sites. Although H3N8 avian influenza is known to circulate since 2002, it is less dangerous for wild birds and domestic poultry than the H5N1 bird flu pandemic.
It is critical to note that with the constantly evolving nature of the influenza virus, WHO highlights the importance of global surveillance to detect virologic, epidemiologic, and clinical changes that may impact human or animal health. Experts recommend conducting thorough market inspections for identifying and keeping track of novel influenza virus detection in animals and humans. Also, practicing good personal hygiene, such as washing hands, covering mouth and nose while sneezing, and cooking meat and eggs, can reduce the risk of infection.
In comparison to H5N1 which has devastated wild and poultry birds worldwide, H3N8 cannot quickly bind with lung receptors in humans, and hence, infects only poultry workers who inhale contaminated faecal dust. Scientists emphasize the detection of virologic changes in H3N8 bird flu in animals at an early stage, animal owners should ensure restricted or no-contact amid humans, and avoid raw consumption of animal products or use and ensure proper cooking of the same. Prompt and strict containment of affected animals is essential to limit the human-avian interface and prevent the risk of infection transfer.