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H5N2 bird flu infects 4-year-old, India’s first human case since 2019

Recent reports suggest that avian influenza bird flu has infected a kid of 4 years old in West Bengal, India. Here’s everything you need to know.

After a bird flu outbreak affected a person in the United States earlier in 2024, a case of bird flu, caused by the H9N2 virus, has been detected in a four-year-old in India’s West Bengal region. The child was reported to have severe respiratory issues, high fever, and abdominal cramps, and was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit (ICU) of a local hospital. The patient was discharged three months after diagnosis and treatment, according to the report by the World Health Organization (WHO). This is the second case of human infection of the bird flu in India, after 2019.

What is the H5N2 virus?

Avian influenza or bird flu refers to the disease caused by infection with avian (bird) influenza (flu). This flu is highly contagious and deadly for domestic and wild birds. Avian influenza A viruses infect birds have evolved into distinct genetic lineages based on the geographic lineages, including H5N. Hemagglutinin, or H, which is essential for the virus to infect cells, and neuraminidase, or N, which aids in the virus’ dissemination, are the two types of surface proteins that are used to categorize the viruses. It is a member of the H5 family of bird flu viruses, which mostly affects wild birds. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that there are nine distinct H5 virus subtypes.

bird flu
First human case of H5N2 virus reported in India. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

Bird flu continues to rise

Other types of avian influenza, including H5N1, have been spreading. Earlier in June 2024, the central government of India issued an advisory on H5N1 or avian influenza (bird flu) warning states and the Union territories (UT) to be on the lookout for any unusual cases among people or deaths in animals or poultry. The affected states are Andhra Pradesh (Nellore district), Maharashtra (Nagpur district), Jharkhand (Ranchi district) and Kerala (Alappuzha, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta districts).

The United States (US) has also reported a bird flu outbreak, which has raised concerns and panic among people. With cases of avian influenza on the rise, health experts have warned people to be vigilant, be careful, and take appropriate action to fight the deadly infection.

Can H5N2 infection spread to humans?

A type of viral infection, bird flu or avian influenza infects birds but can also affect humans. H5N2 virus generally circulates among animals, but it can also affect humans, states a report by the World Health Organization (WHO). It is believed that the primary cause of infections in humans is through direct contact with infected animals or contaminated environments. These infections may trigger mild to severe symptoms that affect your respiratory tract and can be fatal. Patients may experience symptoms such as conjunctivitis, gastrointestinal symptoms, encephalopathy (a group of conditions that cause brain dysfunction), and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain tissues).

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Symptoms of H5N2 bird flu in humans

Here are some of the signs and symptoms of bird flu you should watch out for:

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Shivers
  • Muscle ache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat

Symptoms may get worse in some cases, which may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Respiratory distress or failure
  • Pneumonia
  • Nose and gums bleeding
  • Conjunctivitis and ink eye
  • Pain in the chest
  • Changes in behavior and thinking
  • Seizures (in severe cases)

How is H5N2 bird flu treated?

H5N2 bird flu, like other strains of avian influenza, is primarily managed through some preventive measures that help fight off the infection. Here are some ways that can help:

1. Antiviral medication

Medicines such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) may help reduce the severity and duration of symptoms. These medicines inhibit the replication of the virus, helping you reduce the severity. Additionally, your healthcare provider may give you cough suppressants and other medicines that may help manage respiratory symptoms.

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2. Stay hydrated

Doctors recommend drinking plenty of fluids to help the body recover from any type of flu, including H5N2. Hydration helps prevent dehydration, which can lead to complications.

A glass of water
Drink plenty of water to protect yourself against H5N2 virus. Image courtesy: Freepik

3. Practice good hygiene

Good hygiene, such as frequent handwashing and avoiding close contact with infected individuals or birds is vital to prevent the virus from spreading.

4. Take vaccine

Vaccination is a key preventive measure for avian influenza. While the effectiveness may vary against specific strains like H5N2, it is best to get vaccinated against the infection. Make sure you connect with your healthcare provider to get the right vaccine.

5. Take plenty of rest

You should take adequate rest to help the body recover from any type of flu, including the H5N2 virus. Taking adequate rest allows the body to focus its energy on fighting the infection.

It is imperative to check with your healthcare provider as the treatment protocols may vary from one individual to another. It could be decided, depending on the severity of the illness.

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