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Chile reports human case of H5N1 bird flu

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

A man in northern Chile has tested positive for H5N1 bird flu, the health ministry reported on Wednesday, amid growing concern about the strain of avian influenza which has spread around the world.

The health ministry said the 53-year-old man, from the coastal city of Tocopilla, is currently in serious but stable condition with severe pneumonia. It was not immediately known how he was infected.

“The health protocols for the management of this disease were activated and the corresponding samples were taken for analysis by the Institute of Public Health, which confirmed it is avian influenza,” the health ministry said.

The source of the infection and the patient’s contacts are being investigated to determine if anyone else is affected, the ministry added.

The global spread of H5N1 clade – and the recent spread to a growing number of mammals – has raised concern about the possibility of a future variant which could lead to human-to-human transmission. So far, only a few cases have been found in humans after contact with infected birds.

This is the first human case of bird flu in Chile and the second one in South America, following the case in a 9-year-old girl in Ecuador in January. She was hospitalized in critical condition but eventually recovered.

Earlier this month, China reported that a woman in Jiangsu province had tested positive for H5N1 bird flu, which came just weeks after two people in Cambodia were infected with an older variant of H5N1.

Chile reported this month that more than 500 sea lions in the country are believed to have died of H5N1. An outbreak in neighboring Peru has killed nearly 3,500 sea lions, in addition to tens of thousands of birds.

“The global H5N1 situation is worrying given the wide spread of the virus in birds around the world and the increasing reports of cases in mammals, including in humans,” Dr. Sylvie Briand, a WHO official, said on February 24. “WHO takes the risk from this virus seriously and urges heightened vigilance from all countries.”

Earlier this week, China also reported a human case of H3N8 bird flu.

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