Looks like someone gave a man in China the bird. The bird flu, that is. And the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) is making sure that someone was a bird and not a human.
Normally, the H10N3 avian influenza virus is for the birds, so to speak, and not for humans. In fact, before April, this strain of flu virus had never been known to jump to humans. However, that all changed on Tuesday when China's National Health Commission (NHC) announced that a 41-year-old man, from Zhenjiang in the Jiangsu Province of China, has indeed been infected with the H10N3 avian influenza virus.
During the last week of April, the man had developed a fever, but not just a need cowbell-type of fever. This fever got worse and worse until he was admitted to a local hospital on April 28. Eventually, doctors took samples of the respiratory fluid and sent them off to the CCDC, who on May 28 conducted genetic analyses on the specimens. The verdict? H10N3 bird flu virus. Fortunately, the man eventually got better to the point of being ready for discharge from the hospital.
Meanwhile, the May 28 finding has prompted the CCDC to go off on a not-so-wild goose chase. And a chicken chase. And poultry in the general chase. And a human chase. They’ll want to figure out where and how the man may have been infected with the H10N3 avian influenza virus. More importantly, the CCDC wants to make sure that the man did not pick up the virus from or spread the virus to another human being.
An avian strain of the flu jumping from birds to humans for the first time does, of course, raise some concerns. In birds, the H10N3 avian influenza virus typically causes only mild disease at most. However, in humans, it can be quite a different story. When it comes to the H10N3 bird flu, the human immune system essentially is a virgin. It’s never really seen this kind of virus. Therefore, it can behave like a virgin, not knowing what to do and firing off in random directions. This can result in a lot worse disease and a greater chance of death.
Even more concerning though would be the human-to-human transmission of the H10N3 avian influenza virus. It’s one thing if a single human (not a human without a significant other but one human) gets infected with a new virus. It’s something completely different if humans can then spread this new virus to each other. When human-to-human transmission can occur in a sustained manner, that’s when you really have to worry about a serious epidemic and even a pandemic. That’s essentially what happened with something you may have heard of over the past year: the Covid-19 coronavirus.
So far, a search of the man’s personal contacts and surrounding neighborhoods has not found any other human cases, which is good news. At this point, there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission. So the chances of the H10N3 avian influenza virus spreading far and wide right now seem very, very low. The man most likely caught the virus from a bird.
Therefore, health officials in China are warning people to avoid direct contact with live poultry, such as chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese. So rather than snuggling with chickens while watching your favorite rom-com, it’s better to text them the best lines instead. Oh, and cancel the duck rave. Stop sharing chalices with geese. And be extra careful if poultry seems sick, such as asking for a tissue or saying “dude, I’m sick,” or dead.
Even though some people on social media are saying things like “here we go again,” there’s no need to panic right now about the H10N3 avian flu virus. No need to start hoarding toilet paper as if it were dogecoin or something like that. Again, without the ability to go from human to human, this virus can’t readily cause an outbreak among humans.
Nevertheless, it is important for public health officials to be on the lookout for any such respiratory virus that jumps from animals to humans for the first time and follow them closely. After all, chicken and animals aren’t like Las Vegas. What happens in them doesn’t necessarily always stay in them.