A woman diagnosed with the H5N1 strain of the bird flu last week has died in southwest China.
Health authorities in Guiyang, Guizhou province, announced that the 21-year-old woman, Shuai Pengyue, died on Wednesday due to multiple organ failure as a result of the flu. Shuai was one of two women reported in the area to have contracted the new strain of the avian influenza. Health officials have investigated the two of them and concluded that neither patient was in contact with poultry before showing symptoms of the illness. Victim proximity is important to note because typically, the bird flu is contracted by being in contact with poultry. In this case, health officials worry this could be signs that the H5N1 strain can now be transmitted between humans.
Meanwhile, in Cambodia, a 3-year-old girl has become the sixth person to die from the bird flu in the country this year. The Cambodian Health Ministry and the World Health Organization released statements saying that the child was in contact with poultry recently in the southern province of Kampot.
Cambodia has already reported seven human cases of the H5N1 virus this year, all of them fatal except one.
Health officials and scientists have feared that the virus could mutate into a highly contagious strain which could be transmitted from human to human.
Scientists in the Netherlands and the U.S. have been working on an artificially mutated version of the flu that is easily transmissible among humans in an attempt to do research for prevention or a cure. Research was halted until recently due to fears of a deadly global pandemic if the virus was accidentally removed from the controlled environment.
Now, researchers are making a push to resume investigation of the deadly virus, especially in light of the new cases.
Leo Poon Lit-man, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong School of Public Health, told the South China Morning Post that he supports the controversial research.
“The only way… to control the virus and come to a prevention plan is to allow the research to go forward,” Poon said. Adding, “the H5N1 is still a threat to humans, and it is true that the research may pose some risk. But we may also benefit from it, as we need further understanding of the virus to ensure a better response in case of an outbreak.”
The mortality rate for the avian flu was as high as 60 percent during the 2003 outbreak in Southeast Asia. Most of the victims caught the disease from birds.