The Chinese National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) has announced the third human case of avian influenza A(H5N1) since the beginning of the year. The patient is a 34-year-old man from Yunnan province in Southwest China.

H5N1 avian influenza Image/Cynthia Goldsmith/ Jackie Katz
H5N1 avian influenza
Image/Cynthia Goldsmith/ Jackie Katz

According to the NHFPC, the patient lives in Kunming and had been exposed to poultry. He developed a fever on March 13 and attended a local hospital on March 15. He is currently hospitalised for treatment and is in a serious condition. His specimen, which was tested by the relevant authority, was positive for avian influenza A(H5N1).

Just 10 days ago, a H5N1 avian flu fatality was reported from Sichuan. There was one additional case reported prior to that in January in a woman from Jiangsu province, making the total three to date.

The most recent data on cumulative H5N1 cases from the WHO dated Mar. 3 puts the count at 784 cases and 429 deaths since 2003. However, with recent cases in China and Egypt, the numbers reported are not up to date.

H5N1 is a type of influenza virus that causes a highly infectious, severe respiratory disease in birds called avian influenza (or “bird flu”). Humancases of H5N1 avian influenza occur occasionally, but it is difficult to transmit the infection from person to person. When people do become infected, the mortality rate is about 60%.

Almost all cases of H5N1 infection in people have been associated with close contact with infected live or dead birds, or H5N1-contaminated environments. The virus does not infect humans easily, and spread from person to person appears to be unusual. There is no evidence that the disease can be spread to people through properly prepared and thoroughly cooked food.