Scientists warn bird flu virus that killed girl, 11, ‘had mutated to better attack human cells’ | The Sun

THE bird flu virus that killed an 11-year-old girl in Cambodia had evolved making it better at infecting humans cells, experts have warned.

It comes as UK health officials started Covid-style modelling predict the impact of a bird flu outbreak, amid fears the bug could spark a pandemic.

The young girl in Cambodia is believed to have been infected by poultry in Prey Veng province, close to Vietnam.

She is the first person to die from the bug in 2023.

Her 49-year-old father – one of 12 close contacts tested – had also been infected.

And dozens of other people from the same region are also believed to be carrying the bug, raising fears the virus has started spreading between people.

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Dr Erik Karlsson, who led the team at the Pasteur Institute of Cambodia that investigated the girl's virus, said it differed from samples taken from birds in the area.

"There are some indications that this virus has gone through a human," he revealed in an interview with Sky News.

"Any time these viruses get into a new host they'll have certain changes that allow them to replicate a little bit better or potentially bind to the cells in our respiratory tract a little bit better," he explained.

He said it is unlikely the mutations happened in the girl, but instead probably developed at random inside birds.

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Dr Erik added that the virus had yet to fully adapt to humans.

"It's still a bird virus," he said.

However, the expert said it it would be wrong to downplay the threat from the variant in Cambodia.

"This was a zoonotic spillover [of a virus infecting a new species] and needs to be treated with the utmost concern," he warned.

The World Health Organization warns that of the 873 human H5N1 cases reported over the last two decades, just over half (458) have been fatal.

But so far there is no evidence that the virus spreads easily between people.

Fears have been raised in recent weeks due to the "unprecedented" current outbreak among birds and mammals.

Experts worry the sheer scale of the current spread could give the virus more opportunities to mutate, which could enable H5N1 to better spread in humans.

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In preparation, the UK Health Security Agency produced Covid-style modelling to predict what might happen if the bug began transmitting from human-to-human.

The Government body is also also looking into creating bird flu lateral flow tests.

What are the symptoms of bird flu in humans?

The main symptoms of bird flu can appear very quickly and include:

  • a very high temperature or feeling hot or shivery
  • aching muscles
  • headache
  • a cough or shortness of breath

Other early symptoms may include:

  • diarrhoea
  • sickness
  • stomach pain
  • chest pain
  • bleeding from the nose and gums
  • conjunctivitis

Source: The NHS

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