China reports 2 new cases of H5N6 bird flu in humans

Two more people in mainland China have been tested positive for H5N6 bird flu, raising the number of reported cases this month to eight, officials said. A recent increase in human cases has led to calls for increased surveillance.

The Hong Kong Ministry of Health said in a statement that it had been notified of two more cases in people in Sichuan and Zhejiang provinces. Both cases took place earlier this month but were not immediately made public by local officials.

The first case, a 68-year-old man from Langzhong in Sichuan province, fell ill on January 3 and was taken to a local hospital the next day, where he remains in critical condition. There was no information on how he could have been infected.

The second case, a 55-year-old woman from Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, fell ill on January 6 after exposure to slaughtered poultry. She was admitted to an area hospital on January 9 and remains in critical condition.

Only 67 people have been infected with H5N6 bird flu since the first confirmed case in 2014, but more than half of them were reported during the last 6 months. Eight cases, including two deaths, have been reported so far this year.

Click here for a list of all human cases to date.

H5N6 bird flu is known to cause serious illness in people of all ages and has killed nearly half of those infected, according to the WHO. There are no confirmed cases of human-to-human transmission, but one woman who tested positive last year refused to have contact with live poultry.

“The growing trend of infection in humans with avian influenza virus has become a major public health problem that can not be ignored,” said researchers in a study published by China’s Center for Disease Control in September. The study highlighted several mutations in two recent cases of H5N6 bird flu.

Thijs Kuiken, professor of comparative pathology at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, expressed concern about the growing number of cases. “It could be that this variant is a little more contagious (to humans) … or there may be more of this virus in poultry at the moment, which is why more people are getting infected,” Kuiken told Reuters in October.

Earlier that month, a WHO spokesman said the risk of human-to-human transmission remained low because H5N6 has not achieved the capability for sustained human-to-human transmission. But the spokesman added that increased surveillance was “quickly required” to better understand the growing number of human cases.

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