MOSCOW, February 20: Russian officials have reported discovering the first cases in the world in which the H5N8 strain of avian influenza has been contracted by humans.
Officials also said there is no evidence that the flu has been transmitted from person-to-person.
Medical data regarding seven cases of bird-to-human transmission has been sent to the World Health Organization from a poultry farm in southern Russia, according to Dr. Anna Popova, a Russian physician and public health official.
"It is not transmitted from person to person. But only time will tell how soon future mutations will allow it to overcome this barrier," Popova said. The discovery of this strain "gives us all, the whole world, time to prepare for possible mutations and the possibility to react in a timely way and develop test systems and vaccines," she added, according to Bloomberg.com.
The seven farm workers who contracted the bird flu were diagnosed in December, and were described as having a mild flu from which they quickly recovered, Popova said.
"They were asymptomatic and no onward human-to-human transmission was reported. If confirmed, this would be the first time H5N8 infected people," the WHO said in a statement distributed by email.
In November, officials said that a new H5N8 flu strain was discovered in poultry and wild birds in 15 Russian regions. However, this strain was not considered dangerous to humans.
Meanwhile, in France more than 2 million ducks and other poultry were slaughtered at the end of January due to outbreaks of avian flu, or as a preventative measure, according to France's agriculture ministry.