Russia said on Saturday that its scientists had detected the first cases of transmission of the H5N8 strain of avian flu to humans, and the country alerted the World Health Organization.
"Scientists of the Vector Center (the Vector State Virology and Biotechnology Center) isolated the genetic material of this kind of bird flu in seven workers at a poultry farm in the south of the Russian Federation, where an outbreak in the bird population was recorded in December 2020," Anna Popova, the head of Russia's health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, said in a televised news conference.
The cases amounted to the first known transmission of the H5N8 strain to humans, she said.
Popova said the workers did not suffer any serious health consequences, but all measures for the protection of people and animals were being implemented to minimize any risks.
Russia has sent the WHO information related to the poultry workers found with the virus.
"So far we can see that the novel agent of the H5N8 bird flu is capable of transmission from birds to humans-it crossed the interspecies barrier," Popova said.
Popova praised "the important scientific discovery", saying "time will tell" if the virus can further mutate.
"The discovery of these mutations when the virus has not still acquired an ability to transmit from human to human gives us all, the entire world, time to prepare for possible mutations and react in an adequate and timely fashion," she said.
People can get infected with avian and swine influenza viruses, such as bird flu subtypes H5N1 and H7N9 and swine flu subtypes such as H1N1. People usually get infected through direct contact with animals or contaminated environments, and there is no sustained transmission among humans.
The head of the virology center said it was ready to begin developing test kits and a vaccine.