India probes its first human death from bird flu


NEW DELHI – India is investigating its first documented human death from bird flu after an 11-year-old boy succumbed to the disease earlier this month, the health ministry said.

The boy lived in Gurgaon outside New Delhi and was also suffering from leukaemia and pneumonia.

He was admitted to hospital in the capital on July 2 and died 10 days later from multiple organ failure.

Genome sequencing and virus isolation is in process and an epidemiological investigation has been initiated, the ministry said late Wednesday. 

Avian influenza occurs mainly in birds and poultry, with cases of transmission between humans extremely rare.

H5N1 first broke out in 1997, then spread between 2003 and 2011, while H7N9 was first seen in 2013.

Two strains of bird flu, H5N1 and H7N9, first seen in 2013, led to human contamination in Asia through infected birds. 

H7N9 has infected 1,668 people and killed 616 since 2013, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

In the Indian case, the ministry said the virus belonged to H5Nx subtype, considered worrying as they have proven to evolve into highly dangerous strains.

Doctors and nurses who treated the patient have been monitored since July 16 and no one has reported any symptoms, it said.

Contact tracing was also undertaken but family members, close contacts and health care workers did not show any symptoms.

Last month, China revealed its first human case of bird flu and in February Russia detected the disease among workers at a poultry factory.

India has witnessed bouts of devastating bird flu outbreaks in recent decades, most seriously in 2008, when millions of poultry were culled.

The country, the second most populated in the world, is currently battling the coronavirus pandemic which has infected more than 31 million people and killed over 400,000.