Russia reports first cases of humans catching bird flu H5N8

Close-up of a red chicken
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Russian authorities have reported the first known cases of an avian influenza virus called H5N8 passing from poultry to humans, according to news reports.

Seven workers at a poultry plant became infected with the virus in December 2020, following an outbreak among the bird flocks, Anna Popova, the head of Russia's Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing, said at a press briefing on Saturday (Feb. 20), according to CNN. Scientists at the state-run Vector Institute isolated the virus strains from infected workers, Popova said.

Russia reported the seven cases to the World Health Organization, noting that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission, Popova said. That means that the influenza virus jumped from infected birds into people, but it did not continue to spread from human-to-human. 

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"If confirmed, this would be the first time H5N8 has infected people," a WHO spokesperson said in a statement, CNN reported. Several avian flu strains are known to infect people, including H5N1, H7N9 and H9N2, Reuters reported; but these strains have never caused sustained human-to-human transmission, Live Science previously reported.

People infected with the H5N8 virus "were asymptomatic and no onward human-to-human transmission was reported," the WHO spokesperson confirmed, according to Reuters. 

Since the virus doesn't appear to pass between people, that "gives us all, the entire world, time to prepare for possible mutations and react in an adequate and timely fashion," should human-to-human transmission ever occur in the future, Popova said at the briefing, according to BBC News.

Originally published on Live Science. 

Nicoletta Lanese
Channel Editor, Health

Nicoletta Lanese is the health channel editor at Live Science and was previously a news editor and staff writer at the site. She holds a graduate certificate in science communication from UC Santa Cruz and degrees in neuroscience and dance from the University of Florida. Her work has appeared in The Scientist, Science News, the Mercury News, Mongabay and Stanford Medicine Magazine, among other outlets. Based in NYC, she also remains heavily involved in dance and performs in local choreographers' work.