India reports first suspected human death due to H5N1 bird flu virus

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An 11-year-old boy from the Indian state of Haryana has died from a bird flu virus of the H5N1 strain, the first such fatality in the country, an official statement said on Wednesday.

The boy succumbed to multi-organ dysfunction on July 12, at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi, where he was admitted on July 2.

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The statement issued by the Health Ministry said the matter has been reported to the Animal Husbandry Department, and a team of experts is undertaking an epidemiological assessment at AIIMS.

A team of doctors and nurses who treated the patient has been monitored since July 16 for the development of any influenza-like illness, and authorities have launched contact tracing, the statement said.

So far, none of the close contacts have been reported symptomatic, the Ministry said, adding that there are no symptomatic individuals in the area at present.

In Haryana, the boy’s home state in India’s north, the Animal Husbandry Department has not found any suspected cases of bird flu and has stepped up surveillance in a 10 km zone as a precautionary measure, it said.

Further, an epidemiological investigation by the National Centre for Disease Control, involving the animal husbandry department and State government surveillance unit, is underway and appropriate public health measures have been instituted.

What is bird flu?

Bird flu or avian influenza is a disease caused by avian influenza Type A viruses found naturally in wild birds worldwide. The virus can infect domestic poultry including chickens, ducks, turkeys and there have been reports of H5N1 infection among pigs, cats, and even tigers in Thailand zoos.

India has seen more than half a dozen bird flu outbreaks in poultry in the past two decades, all of which were brought under control, with no human cases reported in the country previously.

AIIMS chief Dr. Randeep Guleria told the Press Trust of India (PTI) that human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 virus was very rare and there was no need to panic. “The transmission of the virus from birds to humans is rare and sustained human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 virus has not yet been established and therefore there is no need to panic. But then people working closely with poultry must take precautionary measures and maintain proper personal hygiene.”

-- With Reuters

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