The first human has died of H3N8 bird flu in China – here’s what you need to know

Bird flu is very rare in humans.

The first human has died of H3N8 bird flu in China – here’s what you need to know
Test tubes labelled "Bird Flu" and a piece of paper in the colours of the French national flag are seen in this picture illustration, January 14, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

The backstory: Bird flu is very rare in humans and doesn’t spread super easily from person to person. Specifically, we’re talking about H3N8. This strain has been known since 2002, first appearing in North American waterfowl. Apart from birds, it’s infected horses, dogs and even seals. The WHO keeps a close watch on all avian influenza viruses because these diseases can evolve and cause a pandemic.

More recently: Last year, two cases of H3N8 bird flu in humans were reported in China, the only known cases in humans at that point. Both of those people recovered. Then, in March, a third case was reported. The patient involved was a 56-year-old Chinese woman from Guangdong province who became sick in late February. She was hospitalized in March.

The development: The WHO just reported that this woman is the first person to die from getting the H3N8 bird flu strain. She’s the third person ever known to have contracted the bird flu. The WHO also said that the woman had underlying health conditions, so she wasn’t in the best health when she got this disease. She was also exposed to live poultry a lot, and she went to wet markets. Based on samples the WHO collected from a wet market visited by this woman, she might’ve gotten this flu there. No one close to the woman contracted the disease.

Key comments:

“The available epidemiological and virological information suggests that avian influenza A (H3N8) viruses do not have the capacity for sustained transmission among humans,” the WHO said.

“Due to the constantly evolving nature of influenza viruses, WHO stresses the importance of global surveillance to detect virological, epidemiological and clinical changes associated with circulating influenza viruses which may affect human (or animal) health,” the WHO also stated.