WHO Verifies First Human Death from Bird Flu in Mexico, Sparks Global Health Concerns

A 59-year-old man in Mexico City has been identified as the world’s first human fatality from the A(H5N2) bird flu virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed on Wednesday. The patient was hospitalized after developing severe symptoms and passed away on April 24. According to WHO, the man experienced a fever, shortness of breath, diarrhea, nausea, and general discomfort before his death. Despite intensive medical care, his condition worsened, leading to his demise. The WHO emphasized that the current risk of bird flu to the general population remains low.

The patient, a resident of the State of Mexico, had no known history of exposure to poultry or other animals, which typically serve as common transmission vectors for avian flu viruses. Instead, he had multiple underlying health conditions, including chronic kidney disease and type 2 diabetes, which made him more susceptible to severe influenza infections. Prior to the onset of acute symptoms, he had been bedridden for three weeks due to other health issues. The source of the virus exposure in this case remains unknown. However, A(H5N2) viruses have been detected in poultry in Mexico, raising concerns about possible indirect transmission. The Mexican Health Ministry has reported that there is no indication of person-to-person transmission and confirmed that farms in the vicinity of the victim’s home were subjected to thorough monitoring. All individuals who had been in contact with the deceased tested negative for bird flu.

In March, an isolated outbreak of A(H5N2) was reported in a family unit in Michoacan, western Mexico. Authorities assured that these cases did not pose a risk to distant commercial farms or human health. Following the death in April, the presence of the virus was confirmed by Mexican authorities, who subsequently reported the case to the WHO. This incident marks the first laboratory-confirmed human infection with the A(H5N2) virus globally and the first occurrence of an avian H5 virus in a person in Mexico. The WHO’s confirmation has prompted heightened vigilance among scientists and health officials, given the potential for avian influenza viruses to adapt and spread among humans.

Influenza expert Andrew Pekosz from Johns Hopkins University noted that the presence of chronic health conditions in the victim increased the risk of severe influenza. Pekosz emphasized the importance of monitoring such infections closely, as each case presents an opportunity for the virus to mutate and potentially enhance its ability to infect humans. The death in Mexico comes amid concerns about avian flu infections in mammals. Bird flu has been known to infect various mammals, including seals, raccoons, bears, and cattle, primarily through contact with infected birds. Recent reports from the United States indicated three cases of H5N1 infection in humans following exposure to cows, highlighting the virus’s ongoing threat.

Although the Mexican case involved the H5N2 strain, different from the H5N1 strain affecting cattle in the U.S., both are part of the H5 avian virus group. The continuous monitoring and study of these viruses are crucial to preventing potential human pandemics. Australia recently reported its first human case of A(H5N1) infection, further underscoring the global importance of vigilant surveillance and reporting of avian influenza cases. The Australian case, like the Mexican one, did not show signs of human-to-human transmission, but it reinforced the need for ongoing attention to avian flu developments. The WHO’s confirmation of the first human death from the A(H5N2) bird flu virus in Mexico serves as a sobering reminder of the potential dangers posed by avian influenza and the importance of global health vigilance.

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