The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced the first human death from a bird flu strain known as H5N2 Bird Flu. This strain has been found in poultry worldwide and had never been detected in humans until now. The 59-year-old man from Mexico died to the virus on April 24, 2024, after experiencing severe symptoms.

First Human Case of H5N2 Bird Flu Reported in Mexico, WHO Confirms

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On June 6, 2024, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the first confirmed human case of the H5N2 bird flu strain.

This case was identified in a 59-year-old man from Mexico City who had underlying health conditions including chronic kidney failure, diabetes, and high blood pressure. The individual died on April 24, 2024, after developing severe symptoms associated with the virus.

The man’s family reported that he had been bedridden for three weeks prior to the onset of these acute symptoms.

He sought medical attention on April 24 and was hospitalized at the National Institute of Respiratory Diseases in Mexico City, where he died the same day.

Initial tests showed an unidentified type of flu, but lab testing confirmed it was the A(H5N2) strain. This is the first laboratory-confirmed human case of infection with the influenza A(H5N2) virus reported globally.

On April 17, 2024. Patient developed fever, nausea, diarrhea, shortness of breath, and general malaise. On April 24, 2024, Patient sought medical care and was hospitalized. On May 8, 2024, Lab testing confirmed H5N2 Bird Flu.

The source of the patient’s exposure to the virus remains unknown. The WHO said that while H5N2 cases have been reported in poultry in Mexico, authorities have not been able to establish a direct connection to this case.

Specifically, there was an outbreak reported in a backyard chicken farm in Michoacan state, which borders Mexico State, the region where the patient lived. However, no direct link has been established.

Mexico’s public health department has addressed that there is no risk of contagion for the population. All samples from identified contacts of the patient have tested negative for the virus. The WHO and Mexico’s Ministry of Health are continuing to monitor the situation closely.

17 people in hospital and additional contacts near the patient’s residence. All tested negative for H5N2 Bird Flu and COVID-19

Authorities have implemented a permanent monitoring system to detect other cases in wildlife and are keeping a close watch on farms near the victim’s home.

Andrew Pekosz, an influenza expert at Johns Hopkins University highlighted that the patient’s pre-existing health conditions increased his risk of severe influenza.

Pekosz also addressed the importance of monitoring for such infections due to the potential for the virus to acquire mutations that could facilitate human-to-human transmission.

The H5N2 Bird Flu is distinct from other avian influenza viruses such as H5N1, which has infected humans previously.

H5N2 Bird Flu has been associated with mortality in humans, with about 900 cases reported globally since 1996, and approximately half of those infected have died.

Recent outbreaks of H5N2 Bird Flu have been noted among dairy cattle in the United States with three human cases reported among farm workers, all of whom experienced mild symptoms.

Other avian flu strains have caused fatalities in humans in previous years. In 2021, the H5N2 Bird Flu caused 18 deaths in China.

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The H5 viruses, since their emergence in 1997 have shown a propensity to infect mammals more than other avian influenza viruses.

The patient developed symptoms including fever, shortness of breath, diarrhea, nausea and general discomfort.

He had multiple underlying health conditions including chronic kidney disease, type 2 diabetes and longstanding hypertension.

He had been bedridden for three weeks prior to the onset of acute symptoms in mid-April. On April 24, he sought medical attention and was hospitalized at the National Institute of Respiratory Diseases (INER) in Mexico City.

Following his death, samples collected from the patient were tested and on May 8, the Laboratory of Molecular Biology of Emerging Diseases at the Center for Research in Infectious Diseases identified the sample as positive for influenza A(H5N2).

By May 22, the Institute of Epidemiological Diagnosis and Reference confirmed the strain. The WHO stated that this is the first laboratory-confirmed human case of H5N2 Bird Flu globally and the first H5 virus infection in a person reported in Mexico.

The source of the man’s infection remains unknown as he had no history of exposure to poultry or other animals.

Mexican health authorities have not found a connection between the man’s case and H5N2 poultry outbreaks in nearby regions.

Despite multiple outbreaks of H5N2 Bird Flu in birds in Mexico including an outbreak in March at a backyard poultry farm in Michoacan, no direct link has been established.

Health authorities are continuing their investigations, and all close contacts of the deceased have tested negative for both SARS-CoV-2 and influenza.

The WHO has assessed that the current risk of H5N2 Bird Flu to the general population in Mexico remains low. Scientists are on high alert for signs that the virus may be adapting to spread more easily among humans.

Influenza expert Andrew Pekosz of Johns Hopkins University addressed that H5 viruses have shown a continuous propensity to infect mammals since 1997.

Bird flu cases in humans are rare. Various H5 strains including H5N1 have infected humans, causing mortality.

WHO figures indicate over 800 confirmed human cases of H5N1 since 2003, primarily in Asia and Africa, with more than 460 fatalities. Three dairy farm workers in the United States were infected with a different strain, H5N1.

Mexican authorities are conducting enhanced surveillance in regions near where the deceased man resided.

They are monitoring wild birds in the wetlands of Tlahuac in Mexico City, as well as farms and backyards, though no infected birds have been identified thus far.

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