China has reported a new outbreak of H5N1 (avian flu) in a poultry farm in Shaoyang, Southern Hunan Province, near the coronavirus-hit Hubei Province. No cases of avian flu in humans have been reported so far.

Details Of Avian Flu Outbreak On The Shaoyang Farm

Reuters reported that 4,500 out of 7,850 chickens on the farm have died from the disease. The local authorities have also reportedly slaughtered 17,828 birds in the surrounding area as a response to the new outbreak.

“The outbreak occurred on a farm in the Shuangqing district of Shaoyang City. The farm has 7,850 chickens, and 4,500 of the chickens have died from the contagion. Local authorities have culled 17,828 poultry after the outbreak,” China’s Ministry of Agricultural Affairs said in a statement on Feb. 1.

The avian flu outbreak comes amid China’s ongoing struggle to contain the New Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which has killed more than 500 people on the mainland so far and infected more than 20 additional countries, raising worldwide concern of another outbreak.

How Dangerous Is Avian Flu?

Avian flu primarily infects birds, but it can also affect humans through close contact with sick birds. Not all avian flu viruses can infect humans, however, some can affect humans and cause a fatal disease such as H5N1, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“It must be noted that while avian influenza may cause severe disease in humans, nearly all cases were acquired through close contact with sick birds, and the virus is not well adapted for human to human transmission,” Professor Eyal Leshem, Director of the Center for Travel Medicine and Tropical Diseases at Sheba Medical Center, told Insideover in an interview conducted via email.

“Therefore, present risk for large scale human outbreak in China [referring to the recent outbreak] is low. The concern is that the virus can mutate, potentially when a person is co-infected with both human influenza and bird influenza and the combined mutant virus will be as transmissible as human influenza and as lethal to humans as bird influenza is,” Leshem added.

Avian Flu Symptoms

Avian flu symptoms are similar to those of the common flu, such as cough, runny nose, and fever. However, some infected with the virus of avian influenza can experience more severe symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, chest pain, and bleeding gums. Laboratory tests are needed to diagnose whether a person is infected with avian flu or not.

“By level of risk I would grade highly pathogenic avian flu with up to 60% mortality, then MERS with 30% mortality, SARS with 10%, and the novel coronavirus least deadly with approximately 2% mortality; however, transmissibility and numbers of cases follow exactly the revere order with tens of thousands of novel coronavirus cases within three months compared with 3000 MERS and 8000 SARS and overall 455 avian flu cases,” Leshem explained.

Between 2003 to 2019 the WHO reported 861 birds-to-humans transmission cases, 455 of which led to death. There were 31 died from avian flu in China in the last 16 years.

Countries Hit In The Past By Avian Flu

Europe has struggled with cases of avian flu in the recent past. The highly pathogenic H5 avian influenza viruses triggered 24 outbreaks in domestic poultry in six countries from December 30, 2019, to January 18, 2020, the WHO reported.

Saudi Arabia reported the spread of the highly pathogenic H5N8 virus in a poultry farm in Riyadh, killing 22,700 birds as cited by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

Prof. Leshem added that the chance of bird-to-human transmission is China is bigger compared to other countries due to cultural habits.

“Some researchers consider the risk of zoonotic disease outbreaks in China to be higher compared with other countries due to some cultural habits such as close contact, and trading of wild animals,” he said.

How Worried Should We Be?

Leshem emphasized that the avian flu outbreak has nothing to do with the coronavirus epidemic. However, he stressed on the importance of the international community’s commitment in allocating funds for public health intervention aimed at preventing the virus from spreading. Using the latest technology for further detection and surveillance is also vital.

A healthy and clean lifestyle is the only thing everyone can do to protect from the virus, as Achmad Yurianto, Secretary of Directorate General of Disease Prevention and Control at Indonesia’s Ministry of Health, said.

“If we want to have a bird as a pet, make sure you clean its cage regularly,” he said.