Health | Death of a Mexican man linked to recent human bird flu strain

A person in Mexico has died consequently of an infection with a bird flu virus that has never been detected in humans before, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

The virus was detected in a 59-year-old patient hospitalized in Mexico City. The man died per week after developing fever, shortness of breath and diarrhea. It is the primary laboratory-confirmed case of an individual infected with a type of bird flu called H5N2, the WHO said in an announcement, raising questions on a strain that has gone largely unnoticed until now. The current outbreak of bird flu in dairy cows within the United States is brought on by a unique strain – H5N1.

The patient, who lived in central Mexico, had no history of contact with poultry or other animals. The Mexican government doesn’t know where he was exposed to the virus, although the strain of bird flu has been reported in poultry within the Mexican state where the person lived.

According to the WHO, the H5N2 virus currently poses only a low risk to the final population. After an investigation, no further cases have been reported.

The man infected with H5N2 suffered from several pre-existing conditions, including chronic kidney disease, type 2 diabetes and chronic hypertension, the Mexican Health Ministry said on Wednesday. He was bedridden for 3 weeks before acute symptoms appeared in mid-April, the WHO added, citing relatives of the patient. Although the person was hospitalized on April 24, he died the identical day.

Mexican authorities reported the fatal case to the WHO on May 23 after confirming the presence of the virus in a sample from the deceased man.

Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist on the University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health, said H5N2 poses a low risk to public health since it just isn’t transmissible from individual to individual. In this context, it’s concerning that the patient had not had contact with animals, that are the most definitely source of disease, she added.

To close the knowledge gaps, stronger monitoring measures are needed, Wallace said.

“It's so crazy we don't know where it came from,” she said.

The Mexican government has begun monitoring wild birds for H5N2 within the Tlahuac wetlands in Mexico City, in addition to in farms, backyards and other areas near the person's home. No infected birds have been identified up to now, the Health Ministry said in an announcement Wednesday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention didn’t immediately reply to requests for comment.

The H5N1 outbreak in cattle continues to spread within the US. On Wednesday, Iowa announced that it had identified infected cows. This brings the variety of states through which bird flu has been detected in herds to 10. So far this yr, three US farmers have tested positive for bird flu – one in Texas and two in Michigan. They showed symptoms corresponding to eye irritation and one had a cough. There have been no human deaths related to the H5N1 outbreak within the US.

– With support from Madison Muller and Maya Averbuch.

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