As China’s Hunan province remains in the midst of a quarantine lockdown over a mysterious outbreak of a novel coronavirus, another strange pathogen has been reported in the same area. In addition to the novel coronavirus, a “highly pathogenic” strain of the H5N1 bird flu has also been reported in China’s Hunan province, but luckily, this illness does not appear to have crossed the barrier between animals and humans in this case.
According to a report from Reuters over the weekend, the outbreak was initially reported on a farm in the city of Shaoyang, which is also in the Hunan province. However, despite being in the same province, Shaoyang is still about a 6-hour drive from Wuhan where the other outbreak is taking place.
China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs reported that 4,500 chickens on the farm lost their lives to the H5N1 avian flu, which was over half of the chickens on the farm. A total of 7,850 chickens were on the farm before the outbreak occurred, and the ones that remained alive were culled by the government as a matter of caution.
The outbreak may have spread to other farms, because in total, the Chinese government has admitted to euthanizing roughly 17,828 chickens to prevent the outbreak from spreading even further.
The United States Geological Survey considers the bird flu to be a “high pathogenic” virus.
According to the USGS website, “The designation of low or highly pathogenic avian influenza refers to the potential for these viruses to kill chickens. The designation of “low pathogenic” or “highly pathogenic” does not refer to how infectious the viruses may be to humans, other mammals, or other species of birds.
The World Health Organization (WHO), says that H5N1 can be transmitted from animals to humans but is usually very rare. Humans who do get the bird flu usually pick it up through contact with dead birds or a contaminated environment. The mortality rate in humans when they do catch the illness is about 60%, which is extremely high, despite its rarity.
The WHO says, that “The virus does not infect humans easily, and spread from person to person appears to be unusual. There is no evidence that the disease can be spread to people through properly prepared and thoroughly cooked food.”
In December of 2019, an article in Nature reported that more than 100 students and staff became infected with a different pathogen, known as bacterium Brucella, at two different Chinese agriculture research institutions. On December 7th, The Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute in central China confirmed that 96 staff members and students have tested positive for the infection. Then days later, over a dozen workers at a nearby research lab were also infected with the pathogen.
To make matters worse, a large number of the lab workers who became infected did not actually experience symptoms, despite being carriers for the illness. These cases are still being investigated.
Meanwhile, tens of millions of people are still quarantined throughout the Hunan Province, with no indication as to when life will be returning to normal.