Chile Detects Its First Case of Bird Flu in Humans

    Chile Detects Its First Case of Bird Flu in Humans
    Last updated Mar 30, 2023
    Image credit: Reuters


    • On Wednesday, Chile's health ministry announced that the Latin American nation has detected its first case of bird flu in a human.[1]
    • A 53-year-old man had severe influenza symptoms and tested positive for the virus, according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Health. The patient is in stable condition, however, the government is investigating both the source of the contagion and others who had been in contact with him.[2]
    • The Chilean government halted poultry exports after wild animals and domestic poultry farms both reported cases of the H5N1 strain of bird flu.[3]
    • According to Chilean health authorities, the virus has been transmitted from birds and marine mammals to humans but not from one person to another.[1]
    • The World Health Organization has expressed concern about the bird flu virus after an 11-year-old girl in Cambodia died from the H5N1 variant. She was diagnosed with bird flu on Feb. 16 after suffering from a high fever.[4]
    • According to officials from the World Health Organization, the risk of human transmission of bird flu is low. However, vaccine manufacturers are preparing for the possibility that bird flu will infect humans and that vaccines could be needed.[1]


    Narrative A

    The potential for a pandemic of H5N1 is a big worry, and scientists suggest we need to do more to prepare for a possible outbreak. If there was an outbreak in Europe or the US tomorrow, we wouldn't be able to vaccinate the world during 2023 based on the current production process. Current seasonal flu vaccines are not effective against bird flu, but it does appear that the antiviral drug Tamiflu is effective against it in people. It's time to begin responsibly planning for this contingency and ramping up vaccine production.

    Narrative B

    While H5N1 has been rampaging wild bird and domestic poultry populations worldwide, it's not time to worry about a human pandemic yet. Most likely the virus would need to make some evolutionary steps to achieve this — like spreading to intermediate host mammals and being able to sustain human-to-human transmission. It's prudent to be aware, but there's no cause for alarm yet.

    Nerd narrative

    There is a 2% risk that there will be at least 10,000 confirmed deaths due to H5N1 before 2024, according to the Metaculus prediction Community.

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