First Human Fatality from H5N2 Bird Flu Strikes in Mexico, Sparks WHO Alert

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In an unprecedented turn of events, a novel strain of avian influenza, H5N2, claimed a man’s life in Mexico, marking the first-known human fatality on account of this particular virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed on Wednesday. It remains uncertain, however, how the victim contracted this particular strain, although it’s worth noting that H5N2 has been previously identified in Mexican poultry populations.

Avian flu is not a monolithic disease, but rather a broad label encapsulating a variety of disease strains. For example, the H5N2 virus is not identical to the one that infected several American herds of dairy cows, known as H5N1, which resulted in milder infections in three farmworkers. In prior years, alternative strains of avian flu have proven lethal to populations around the globe such as the H5N6 outbreak in China that took 18 lives back in 2021, based on a bird flu timeline constructed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The recent fatality was a 59-year-old man, in a Mexico City hospital, who contracted the virus despite having no known contact with poultry nor any other animals. A WHO press release, informed by the man’s family, recounted the man’s plight: before falling ill on April 17 with symptoms such as fever, breathlessness, and diarrhea, he had been bedridden due to unrelated health complications. In addition to this, underlying conditions prevailed, which included chronic kidney failure, diabetes, and hypertension per the country’s public health department. Seeking hospital intervention on April 24 was unavailing, with life forsaking him on the same day.

Preliminary testing indicated an unknown type of influenza. However, weeks of successive lab tests finally culminated in the confirmation of H5N2’s presence. While this diagnosis rings alarms, there’s a silver lining to this cloud as the WHO assures that the Mexican populace faces a low risk, with no additional human cases cropping up despite the extensive testing of those who had come into contact with the victim pre and post admission to the hospital.

Even though Mexico had battled three poultry flare-ups of H5N2 in its peripheries in March, a link to this fatality has proved elusive for the authorities. Adding to the authorities’ survey list are also avian populations near a shallow lake on the fringes of Mexico City.

The overarching worry accompanying any outbreak of bird flu in poultry is the potential of the disease to cross species boundaries and infect humans in close contact with the birds. Medical authorities are on high alert for the evolution of these viruses with an ability to transmit from person to person, a scenario that heightens concern as an increasing variety of mammal species succumb to bird flu strains.

Therefore, in the face of this situation, the commitment of scientists, health workers, and authorities becomes imperative in preempting such a health catastrophe and ensuring the welfare and safety of all.