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Australia reports human case of H5N1 bird flu

A child in Australia tested positive for H5N1 bird flu after flying back from India, according to local health officials, making this the first ever case of H5N1 on the Australian continent. The child was seriously ill but has since recovered.

Dr. Clare Looker, the Chief Health Officer in the Australian state of Victoria, said the child was infected in India before traveling to Australia in March, after which they became seriously ill. The child has since made a full recovery.

“The avian influenza virus was detected through further testing of positive influenza samples that takes place to detect novel or concerning flu virus strains, as part of Victoria’s enhanced surveillance system,” Dr. Looker said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Victoria’s Department of Health declined to provide more details about the case, including the age of the child and whether they had any contact with poultry while staying in India.

Dr. Looker said the case does not involve H5N1 clade 2.3.4.4b, which has spread across most of the world and is affecting a growing number of mammals, raising concern about the possibility of human cases. The 2.3.4.4b variant recently jumped to cattle for the first time, infecting dairy cows across the U.S.

“Whilst the Victorian case is HPAI (H5N1), it is not the same as the strains that have caused these outbreaks in the United States of America,” Dr. Looker said, without specifying the strain involved in the Australian case.

India has only reported one human case to date, in an 11-year-old boy who died in the summer of 2021. It was later determined that he was suffering from an older variant, clade 2.3.2.1a. It’s unknown how he was infected.

Wednesday’s announcement came just hours after an outbreak of H7N3 bird flu was confirmed at an egg farm elsewhere in Victoria, making it the first bird flu case in Australia since 2020. Looker said there were no links to the human case of H5N1.

So far this year, 8 human cases of H5N1 bird flu have been reported across the world, including 1 in Texas, 1 in Vietnam, 5 in Cambodia, and the latest case in Australia. Only one case – the one in Texas – was caused by the newer variant, clade 2.3.4.4b.