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First death worldwide from bird flu virus type H5N2

Bird flu virus type H5N2

The WHO has confirmed the world’s first human death from a subspecies of bird flu in Mexico. A 59-year-old man died after an H5N2 infection – without having had contact with animals.

Fever, shortness of breath, diarrhea and dizziness: These were the symptoms with which a 59-year-old man was hospitalized in Mexico City. The patient died a few days later.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has now confirmed an infection with the bird flu virus variant H5N2 – it is the first human death worldwide. There is no evidence that the person had previously had contact with “poultry or other animals”.

Patient with pre-existing conditions died

According to the Mexican Ministry of Health, the person had suffered from chronic kidney disease, type II diabetes and long-standing high blood pressure. The WHO stated that the person developed bird flu symptoms on April 17. On April 24, he was hospitalized in the capital, Mexico City, and died there the same day.

After confirmation through several tests, the Mexican health authorities reported the death to the WHO on May 23. It is unclear how the person became infected. However, H5N2 infections have already occurred in poultry in Mexico, including in the state of Mexico where the deceased lived.

WHO: Risk for people in affected regions “low”

Despite the death, the WHO estimates the risk for people in the affected regions to be “low”. The Mexican Ministry of Health assured that there was “no risk of infection for the population”. The tests on the deceased’s contacts all came back negative. The authorities are therefore checking the situation on farms near the deceased’s place of residence and setting up a surveillance system to detect possible H5N2 infections in wild animals.

H5N2 compared to H5N1

The H5N2 variant is considered to be less pathogenic than H5N1. H5N2 has been detected in animals in several countries in recent years. Transmission of the virus variant to humans has not yet been confirmed.

From 2003 to May 2024, a total of 463 deaths following infections with bird flu viruses were reported to the WHO from 23 countries, but these were always A (H5N1). Infections with bird flu viruses are notifiable. In many countries, however, not all deaths with bird flu-like symptoms such as respiratory problems or diarrhea are investigated, or laboratory capacity is insufficient to identify viruses. Experts therefore assume that not every case is reported to the WHO.

Dairy herds in the USA infected with H5N1

Dairy herds in the USA infected with H5N1

In Mexico’s neighboring country, the USA, the bird flu virus variant H5N1 has been spreading for weeks and has also infected dairy herds there. Isolated infections have also been detected in humans, but no human-to-human transmissions have been recorded.

H5N1 is now rampant almost all over the world and is causing birds in particular to fall ill with bird flu, also known as avian influenza. Occasionally, however, the virus also affects mammals, although they are less susceptible. For example, minks, seals, pigs, horses and cats have already been infected.

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