Deadly Avian Influenza Variant Claims First Victim

A man, whose identity has not been disclosed, began showing severe symptoms such as fever, shortness of breath, diarrhea, nausea, and general malaise, as reported by The Sun. According to a WHO spokesperson, “this is the first laboratory-confirmed human case of A(H5N2) virus infection reported worldwide, and the first case of A(H5) virus infection in a person in Mexico.” The patient suffered from several chronic illnesses, including chronic kidney failure, diabetes, and hypertension, which may have facilitated the infection and worsened his condition.

Despite no contact with poultry, health authorities do not rule out an infection due to indirect contact. The patient had been bedridden for three weeks for other reasons before the onset of acute symptoms. Hospitalized a week after the symptoms began, he died on the same day of admission due to severe complications.

Previous Avian Influenza Cases
Experts remind that several strains of avian influenza have previously infected humans, sometimes with fatal consequences. In 2023, a 56-year-old woman in China died after contracting the H3N8 virus, likely in a wet market. In 2021, 18 people succumbed to the H5N6 virus in China, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A year later, China reported a fatal human case of H5N1.

Andrew Pekosz, an avian influenza expert at Johns Hopkins University, highlights that “since 1997, H5 viruses have shown a continuous propensity to infect mammals more than any other avian influenza virus. Each transmission is an opportunity for the virus to accumulate the mutations necessary for better infectivity in humans.”

Monitoring Virus Mutations
Scientists remain vigilant in monitoring avian influenza virus mutations closely. Infections in animals such as seals, raccoons, bears, and livestock are mainly due to contact with infected birds. Experts believe that changes in the virus could facilitate its transmission between humans, although this is not yet the case for H5N2.

Dr. Ed Hutchinson, a lecturer at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, warns that “even though much attention is focused on H5N1 in livestock in the US, this case serves as a reminder that there are many other influenza viruses with the potential to infect humans.” Hutchinson adds that this infection appears to be an isolated incident, but the situation remains under surveillance.

What Are the Symptoms of the Disease?
Symptoms of avian influenza typically appear rapidly and include high fever, muscle aches, headaches, coughing, or shortness of breath. Other early symptoms may include diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, chest pain, nose and gum bleeds, as well as conjunctivitis.

To reduce the risk of infection, it is essential to avoid any contact with sick or dead birds, frequently wash hands, and follow health authorities’ recommendations. Individuals in contact with poultry should also wear appropriate protective gear.

Have There Been Other Infected Individuals?
Health authorities continue to test individuals who have been in contact with the Mexican patient to detect potential infections. To date, no other human cases of H5N2 have been reported, and the risk of spread appears low. However, experts remain vigilant, aware that each new infection is an opportunity for the virus to mutate and potentially become more transmissible among humans.

Vigilance remains crucial as scientists work to understand infection mechanisms and develop strategies to prevent an epidemic. Research on the virus’s genetic sequences could provide insights into its ability to infect humans and help anticipate future mutations.