One of the reassuring hallmarks of avian H5N8 has been that - unlike H5N1 and H5N6 - it has never been known to infect humans. There were reports out of Russia in the fall of 2017 - made by Anna Popova - Chief State Sanitary Physician of the Russian Federation - regarding potential asymptomatic human infection with HPAI H5N8, but they were never verified (see A Curious (And Unverified) H5N8 Report From Russia).
A 2017 editorial in the Journal Virulence (see J. Virulence Editorial: HPAI H5N8 - Should We Be Worried?) reviewed and summarized the literature, and found enough reasons to be concerned over the future evolutionary path of H5N8, stating that:
While primarily a disease affecting birds, we have seen some evidence of H5N8 jumping to mammals (see MAFRA: H5N8 Antibodies Detected In South Korean Dogs (Again)), and some research (see Sci Rpts: H5N8 - Rapid Acquisition of Virulence Markers After Serial Passage In Mice) suggesting that H5N8 could someday acquire the genetic changes that would make it a human health threat as well.
The extensive distribution of HPAI H5N8, as well as the gene reassortment with other circulating avian viruses already observed for H5N8 suggests there is a potential risk for human cases of H5N8 infections.
According to numerous Russian and English language media reports this morning, Russia has notified the World Health Organization of 7 confirmed avian H5N8 infections in humans. The announcement was made earlier today by Anna Popova.
This (translated) report from TASS.
The world's first case of human infection with influenza A (H5N8) was detected in Russia
Bird flu is not yet transmitted from person to person, emphasized the head of Rospotrebnadzor Anna Popova
MOSCOW, February 20. / TASS /. Avian influenza of a new type was detected in seven employees of a poultry farm in southern Russia, the head of Rospotrebnadzor Anna Popova said at a briefing on Saturday.
"Scientists of the Vector Center have isolated genetic material of this type of avian influenza from seven employees of a poultry farm in the south of the Russian Federation, where an outbreak was registered among the poultry population in December 2020," she said. The head of Rospotrebnadzor noted that this was the world's first confirmed case of human infection with avian influenza A (H5N8) virus.
According to her, all measures to protect people and animals were carried out in a short time, all risks were minimized and this situation did not develop further.
“All people, all seven people I’m talking about today, feel good, their clinical course was very mild. But at the same time, our scientists were able to see changes in the human body and the immune response to meeting this virus in all seven workers This poultry farm. Today they feel good, and at that moment they felt good, the disease ended quickly enough, "she said.
No cases of human-to-human transmission of the new type of avian influenza virus have yet been recorded, Popova said.
"So far, we see that the new pathogen of avian influenza A (H5N8) is capable of spreading from birds to humans - it has overcome the interspecies barrier. But this variant of the influenza virus is not transmitted from person to person today," Popova said.
According to the head of Rospotrebnadzor, "how quickly subsequent mutations will allow him to overcome this barrier, time will tell."
"This scientific discovery of our scientists, the Vector Institute of Rospotrebnadzor allows us to warn scientists, practitioners, and the public and citizens around the world in order to take the necessary measures in a timely manner and counter a new threat at a significantly new high level of counteraction and prevention. Time for this. we have it today, "the chief sanitary doctor of Russia emphasized.
(Continue . . . )
This is obviously unwelcome, but not completely unexpected, news. Hopefully we'll get an update from the WHO with more details in the days ahead.