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Young woman dies of H5N6 bird flu in southern China

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Micrograph of avian influenza, also known as bird flu (Credit: CDC/F.A. Murphy)

A 26-year-old woman in southern China has died of H5N6 bird flu amid a rise in isolated cases, health officials in Hong Kong reported on Wednesday. Three other cases were reported earlier this month.

The Hong Kong Department of Health said it was notified about the case in Guilin, a city in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in mainland China, on Wednesday. There was no immediate word from local officials.

The health department said the 26-year-old woman had contact with live domestic poultry before she developed symptoms on August 14. She was admitted to hospital five days later and has since died.

It’s unknown why the case was not reported to the public until Wednesday. A spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO) did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Only 46 human cases of H5N6 bird flu have been confirmed since the first case in 2014, but nearly a quarter of them have been reported during the last 2.5 months. At least 22 cases, all but one of them in China, were reported during the last year.

H5N6 bird flu is known to cause severe illness in humans of all ages and has killed more than half of those infected, according to WHO. There are no confirmed cases of human-to-human transmission.

“While recently-identified avian influenza viruses do not currently transmit easily from person to person, the ongoing circulation of these viruses in poultry is concerning, as these viruses cause severe disease in humans and have the potential to mutate to become more contagious between people,” WHO says on its website. “WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme therefore monitors human cases of avian influenza on an ongoing basis.”

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