A mutating strain of bird flu that has emerged in Russia has “a fairly high degree of probability” of human-to-human transmission, the head of the country’s health watchdog warned in a report.
Anna Popova, who heads Rospotrebnadzor, made the worrying prediction almost a month after scientists detected the first case of H5N8 transmission to humans at a southern Russia poultry farm, the Moscow Times reported.
Humans can get infected with other bird and swine flu subtypes, but the H5N8 strain — which is lethal for birds — has never previously been reported to have spread among people.
“This is likely to happen. Colleagues say that the mutation is continuing very actively,” Popova said, adding that Rospotrebnadzor and the Siberia-based Vektor state research lab have time to develop a test kit and a vaccine, and then to “monitor the situation.”
“If we won’t need it, it’ll be a lucky break. But if necessary, we’ll be ready,” Russia’s chief sanitary doctor told Russian news agency TASS.
“In other words, we’ll be able to warn the entire world community of the threat.”
Last month, Popova reported the first case of the H5N8 strain passing to humans from birds to the World Health Organization, according to Reuters.
In addition to Russia and Europe, outbreaks of H5N8 have been reported in recent months in China, the Middle East and North Africa — but so far only in poultry.
Other strains of avian flu, such as H5N1, H7N9 and H9N2, have been known to spread to humans.
Seven workers at a Russian poultry plant had been infected with the H5N8 mutation in an outbreak at the plant in December, Popova said, adding that everyone quickly recovered.
“This situation did not develop further,” she said in late February.