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H5N8 risk for humans is ‘very low’ – ECDC

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By Joe Whitworth+

Last updated on 22-Nov-2016 at 11:17 GMT2016-11-22T11:17:40Z

Picture: iStock
Picture: iStock

Avian flu virus poses a ‘very low’ risk to humans but given its evolving nature there is the potential of infection, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus A (H5N8) were reported by Austria, Hungary and Germany in poultry and detections in wild birds. Croatia, Denmark, Poland and Switzerland reported infection in wild birds while the Netherlands detected it in wild birds and birds in a zoo.

India and Israel had outbreaks in birds while South Korea, Taiwan and Russia reported incidents earlier this year.

If the virus is found in meat or eggs sold in the EU it can be destroyed by thorough cooking.

The full genome sequences of several HPAI A (H5N8) viruses showed they are still bird viruses without specific increased affinity for humans, according to the European reference laboratory for avian influenza viruses.

ECDC said no human infections have ever been reported and the risk of zoonotic transmission to the public is considered to be very low.

“However, given that the virus with the HA gene has evolved from the widely circulating A (H5N1) viruses, people in direct contact with or handling diseased birds or poultry and their carcasses might be at risk of infection.

“Given this potential zoonotic risk, contingency plans for the control of avian influenza in poultry and birds are being implemented in collaboration with public health and occupational health authorities, to ensure that persons at risk are sufficiently protected from infection.”

The agency said appropriate personal protective equipment, including respiratory protection, should be available and used.

“People exposed at affected holdings or having direct contact with infected wild birds should be monitored for ten days in order to identify possible related symptoms.”

Meanwhile, 800 cases, including 320 deaths, of avian influenza A (H7N9) virus in China have been reported with zoonotic transmission from poultry to humans being the likely explanation.

Until March 2013, there had been no human infections with avian influenza A (H7N9) virus.

Epidemiological and virological evidence suggests it has not acquired the ability of sustained transmission among humans.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has made a number of recommendations including following good food safety and food hygiene practices.

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