A girl in Cambodia has died of the H5N1 bird flu.
The unnamed 11-year-old boy was the first case of the avian disease in the Southeast Asian nation in nearly a decade.
Although bird flu can spread to humans through contact with infected birds, it is not thought to be a major threat to Americans. It is highly deadly when it infects people, killing more than half of the patients.
The circulating strain has never been transmitted from person to person, but recent outbreaks among other mammals, such as mink and sea lions, are raising fears.
Experts are concerned about the spread of zoonotic diseases, which jump from animals to humans in general, and warn that the world is not ready for it.
A girl in Cambodia has died from the H5N1 bird flu. She got infected with the virus last week. She is the nation’s first case since 2014 (file photo)
The map above shows locations where there is an increased risk of a zoonotic virus outbreak. Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, a public health expert at Brown University in Rhode Island, warned that Texas was also a potential epicenter.
The girl from the rural southeastern province of Prey Veng fell ill on February 16 and was sent for treatment at the hospital in the capital, Phnom Penh.
She was diagnosed Wednesday after suffering a fever of up to 39 degrees Celsius (102 Fahrenheit) with a cough and sore throat and died shortly after, the Health Ministry said in a statement late Wednesday.
Health officials took samples from a dead wild bird in a conservation area near the girl’s home, the ministry said in a separate statement on Thursday.
He said crews in the area would also warn residents about handling dead or sick birds.
Cambodian Health Minister Mam Bunheng has warned that bird flu poses an exceptionally high risk to children who may be feeding or collecting eggs from domesticated poultry, playing with the birds or cleaning their cages.
The virus can be transmitted to humans when a person has an open wound exposed to an infected bird.
Infections usually occur when a bird pecks or scratches a person. Transmission can also occur from a dead bird to a human.
Tedros said the WHO still assesses the risk of bird flu to humans as low.
“But we cannot assume that this will continue to be the case, and we must prepare for any change in the status quo,” he said.
He advised that people not touch dead or sick wild animals and that countries strengthen surveillance of environments where people and animals interact.
The world is experiencing what has been described as the worst bird flu outbreak on record, with more than 58 million birds in the US having been culled or killed by the virus in the past year.
The H5N1 strain is known to spread in birds, but the rate of spread in this outbreak is unlike anything seen before.
Both wild and domesticated birds have been threatened by the virus so far.
While the strain can infect humans, it is not thought to spread from person to person.
Experts warn that the virus is adapting in a way that allows it to cause outbreaks in other mammals, although it increases the risk of it spreading between people.
In October, an outbreak of bird flu devastated a population of 52,000 mink on a farm in Spain.
Some of the creatures were initially infected by eating the meat of birds that died while infected.
There were also signs of flu spreading from mink to mink, which is unusual for a mammalian population and signals a change in the virus.
In Peru, 716 sea lions have died of bird flu in recent weeks. Local officials are concerned that the virus has also spread among animals, which are also mammals.
It comes as experts express increased fears about the threat of zoonotic diseases spreading in the United States. Last week, experts from Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and New York University, warned about the risks of zoonotic transmission.
In an editorial, they accused the US of being too obsessed with external threats, such as bioterrorism and laboratory leaks, and not keeping a close eye on risks in its own backyard.
They called for a review by regulatory agencies, including the US Department of Agriculture.
Experts have already warned that the next zoonotic outbreak could occur in China, because of its markets for wet food, and in Rwanda and Brazil, where urbanization and expanding agriculture are bringing people into contact with wild animals previously unknown to them. they would have been apart.
But they also warn that Texas, one of the world’s top meat producers, could also be a hotbed for dangerous new viruses.
In the article, they urged: ‘What is needed is not simply for agencies to do their job better or plug gaps, but a fundamental restructuring of the way human-animal interfaces are governed.
‘A One Health approach, which NBS-22 affirms as its guiding principle, would consider the health of other living things not just as an occasional means or obstacle to human health, but as continuous with it.
‘The first step in implementing such an approach would be to create a high-level process to integrate the broken mosaic of multiple agencies, with their unclear and sometimes contradictory mandates, into a comprehensive and effective regime.’
The map above shows bird flu cases detected in poultry facilities (left) and in wild birds (right) in 2022 and 2023. The WHO has warned the world to prepare for a possible bird flu pandemic saying the virus could pass to humans.
Figures show that 10 billion animals were killed for their meat in the US in 2022, the highest number on record, and up to 204 million in 2021.
The country is also a major importer of live animals, which could harbor diseases, bringing in around 200 million a year according to estimates.
There is also a large market for wild game that raises around 40 million animals a year.
The scientists warned that infections could spread from animals to humans at any stage of the meat supply chain, from farming facilities to slaughter and the place where it is consumed.
They caution that there is an increased risk with imported live animals because they enter the US without health and safety checks upon arrival, which means they could bring new diseases into the country.
There is also an increased risk with game animals, as these are not disinfected or regulated before being consumed.
There is mounting evidence that the US is already dealing with increasing numbers of animal-to-human infections.
The country recorded more animal-to-human infections in the second half of the 20th century than any other country in the world, the scientists said.