February 4, 2020
"However, the organization said that if the virus were to mutate and become easily transmissible to humans, there could be a major health concern."
China gut-punched as 2nd deadly disease breaks out
The Chinese province adjacent to the one where the coronavirus first appeared is facing an outbreak of H5N1 bird flu, according to news reports.
What officials said was a highly pathogenic strain was reported in Hunan province, just south of Hunei province where the coronavirus-plagued city of Wuhan is located, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs announced Saturday, according to Reuters.
The government reported that the outbreak took place on a farm that had 7,850 chickens, 4,500 of which died due to the disease. More than 17,000 poultry were later killed to avoid the spread of the disease, the government reported. The World Health Organization said the bird flu causes severe respiratory disease in birds and is contagious to humans.
"Human cases of H5N1 avian influenza occur occasionally, but it is difficult to transmit the infection from person to person. When people do become infected, the mortality rate is about 60 percent," WHO reported on its website.
Despite the high mortality rate, WHO cautioned against panic.
"Almost all cases of H5N1 infection in people have been associated with close contact with infected live or dead birds, or H5N1-contaminated environments. The virus does not infect humans easily, and spread from person to person appears to be unusual. There is no evidence that the disease can be spread to people through properly prepared and thoroughly cooked food," the WHO said.
However, the organization said that if the virus were to mutate and become easily transmissible to humans, there could be a major health concern.
"H5N1 infection in humans can cause severe disease and has a high mortality rate. If the H5N1 virus were to change and become easily transmissible from person to person while retaining its capacity to cause severe disease, the consequences for public health could be very serious," it said.
This is not the first report of bird flu in China. Last June, an outbreak of H5N6 flu was reported in western China, according to Reuters, while in January another outbreak of H5N6 was reported there, according to another Reuters report.
The bird flu outbreak comes as a gut-punch to a China already reeling from a coronavirus outbreak. As of Saturday, 259 Chinese had died from the virus and about 12,000 infections had been confirmed, according to The New York Times.
The spread of the virus has been linked to Chinese unwillingness to announce in December that the initial cases reported in Wuhan posed a serious threat to public health.
“This was an issue of inaction,” Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said, according to The New York Times. “
Initial Chinese statements, instead, suggested the virus was under control
“Projecting optimism and confidence, if you don’t have the data, is a very dangerous strategy,” Alexandra Phelan, a faculty research instructor in microbiology and immunology at Georgetown University, told The Times.
“It undermines the legitimacy of the government in messaging. And public health is dependent on public trust," she said.