China reports first death due to H5N1 bird flu since 2015

The case comes as the largest ever recorded avian influenza outbreak continues to spread across the world.

A sign at the edge of an exclusion zone warns of the closure of a footpath after an outbreak of bird flu in the village of Upham in southern England, February 3, 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS/PETER NICHOLLS)
A sign at the edge of an exclusion zone warns of the closure of a footpath after an outbreak of bird flu in the village of Upham in southern England, February 3, 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS/PETER NICHOLLS)

A 38-year-old woman from Qinzhou in southeastern China died after being infected with the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, the first death due to the strain in China since 2015, Hong Kong's Center for Health Protection announced on Wednesday.

The woman developed symptoms on September 22 and passed away on October 18.

Largest ever bird flu outbreak continues to spread

The case comes as the largest ever recorded avian influenza outbreak continues to spread across the world, mainly in Europe and North America. The predominant strain in the outbreaks in Europe and North America is H5N1, although from the Eurasian lineage and not the Asian lineage which has been associated with severe or fatal human infections. So far, human infections by the Eurasian lineage have resulted only in mild illness.

A preliminary risk assessment published by the UK Health Security Agency on Tuesday stated that due to the high amount of infected birds, humans were more likely to be exposed to the virus.

  Workers in protective gear seen in Moshav Givat Yoav, in northern Israel, December 29, 2021, following an outbreak of the Avian influenza.  (credit: MICHAEL GILADI/FLASH90) Workers in protective gear seen in Moshav Givat Yoav, in northern Israel, December 29, 2021, following an outbreak of the Avian influenza. (credit: MICHAEL GILADI/FLASH90)

The UKHSA added that available surveillance data does not suggest that the virus had adapted to spread widely in mammals and that there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission.

The agency noted that sequencing from mammalian infections found that the virus they were infected with was carrying the PB2 E627K substitution, which is known to be acquired rapidly after infection of a mammalian host in some influenza viruses. The assessment added that the appearance of the mutation could indicate that the virus has a tendency to cause human infections. 

A recent report from the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH) stated that over 4.6 million birds had died or were culled due to the virus in just a four week period between October 12 to November 10. 

Over 52.7 million domesticated birds in 46 states have been killed or culled in the US due to the 2022 avian influenza outbreak, making it the largest ever bird flu outbreak recorded in the US.

Two outbreaks of H5N1 bird flu have been detected in Israel in the past few weeks, including one outbreak among turkeys in Kibbutz Shluhot in northern Israel and another at a turkey farm in Beit Herut in central Israel.