By Benjamin Cost
Health agencies have reported that the bird flu pathogen that claimed the life of the Shenzhen bus driver earlier this week cannot be transmitted from human to human. This comes despite the fact that the bus driver in question had allegedly not had contact with poultry for a month prior to falling ill. Unassuaged authorities insist that though the strain is highly contagious between birds, as of now, the only way for it to infect someone is through poultry-to-human contact:
“The virus found in the patient was 90 percent similar to H5N1 viruses previously isolated in ducks in China, which suggested that the man was very likely to have been infected through direct contact with a bird,” the Shenzhen Center for Disease Prevention and Control said in a statement.
“It is still not transmissible between people,” it said.
As the Guangdong health department pointed out, none of the 120 people who had maintained close contact with the bus driver victim have exhibited any symptoms of bird flu.
Even in these rare instances when the virus does jump from fowl to person, it usually only infects those who are in constant close proximity to the birds due to their occupation. Namely, workers who handle chicken parts day in and day out – which makes the bus driver’s death seem all the more bizarre as he was, in fact, a bus driver!
But besides the peculiar circumstances surrounding the Shenzhen man’s death, it’s easy to see why the recent death has sparked such a “virulent” scare. Since 2003, the H5N1 epidemic has ravaged over a dozen countries on Asia, Africa, the Pacific, Europe and the Near East, resulting in 573 confirmed cases (40 in China alone) of which around 60% proved fatal.
H5N1 preyed on more than just the elderly and immuno-compromised. On the contrary, while a fair portion of victims were children, many, like the aforementioned bus driver, were adults under 40 years-old.
Though scientists have yet to uncover any evidence that would suggest that this particular strain is transmissible between humans, they are still vehemently on the lookout. We are all holding our breath, especially around poultry markets.