WHO Confirms New Bird Flu Case in West Bengal, India

Unless there is direct contact with contaminated settings, there is still a low danger of catching bird flu, infected birds, or their secretions.
Birds are a common host for the avian influenza subtype H9N2 virus. (Representational image: Pixabay)
Birds are a common host for the avian influenza subtype H9N2 virus. (Representational image: Pixabay)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported a human case of bird flu caused by the H9N2 virus in a four-year-old child from West Bengal, India. This marks the second instance of this virus infecting a human in India, the first being in 2019.

The young patient was admitted to a local hospital's pediatric intensive care unit (ICU) in February due to severe respiratory issues, a high fever, and abdominal cramps. The child was discharged three months later after receiving treatment. According to the WHO, the child had exposure to poultry both at home and in the surrounding environment. Despite this, no respiratory illness symptoms were reported among the child’s family or other contacts.

It is well observed that H9N2 usually causes mild sickness. However, the WHO has warned of the potential for sporadic human cases as this virus is one of the most prevalent avian influenza viruses circulating in poultry in different regions. The organization has stated that further sporadic human cases could occur due to the widespread nature of this virus in poultry.

Details about the child's vaccination status and antiviral treatment were not available at the time of reporting. The Indian health ministry has not yet responded to requests for further information.

Birds are a common host for the avian influenza subtype H9N2 virus. Although it mainly affects birds, it can also occasionally infect people, even young children. Unless there is direct contact with contaminated settings, there is still a low danger of catching bird flu, infected birds, or their secretions. Children exposed to live poultry markets or farms are at higher risk of contracting the virus, as it can adapt to humans and cause infection.

Details about the child's vaccination status and antiviral treatment were not available at the time of reporting. (Representational image: Pixabay)
Details about the child's vaccination status and antiviral treatment were not available at the time of reporting. (Representational image: Pixabay)

Symptoms of H9N2 infection are similar to those of other viral infections and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and headache. Additional symptoms may include muscle aches, fatigue, and conjunctivitis. In severe cases, the infection can lead to difficulty breathing and pneumonia.

Prevention measures are crucial to reducing the risk of infection. Limiting exposure to live poultry and bird markets is essential, as these environments can act as hotspots for viral transmission. Good hygiene practices, such as frequent hand washing, especially after interacting with birds or their habitats, are recommended. Using protective gear, such as masks and gloves, when working with birds can also help reduce the risk of infection.

The annual flu shot may provide some cross-protection against H9N2, even though there is no specialized vaccination for this virus. The diagnosis of H9N2 avian influenza involves multiple laboratory tests. Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) is often used to detect the presence of viral RNA. Throat and nose swabs are also necessary for isolating and identifying the virus. Serological studies, which are blood tests that look for antibodies against the virus, are essential for determining immune responses and verifying prior infections.

The H9N2 virus typically tends to cause mild illness, but further sporadic human cases could occur as this virus is one of the most prevalent avian influenza viruses circulating in poultry in different regions.
World Health Organization (WHO)

Management of H9N2 infection includes the use of antiviral drugs like oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza), which may be effective if started early. Supportive care, including hydration, rest, fever management, and addressing respiratory symptoms, is also important. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary for respiratory support and intensive care.

(Input from various sources)

(Rehash/ Susmita Bhandary/MSM)

Birds are a common host for the avian influenza subtype H9N2 virus. (Representational image: Pixabay)
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