Amidst the coronavirus outbreak, China is now also fighting deadly bird flu

Amidst the coronavirus outbreak, China is now also fighting deadly bird flu

Customers wearing face masks shop inside a supermarket following an outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Wuhan, Hubei province, China February 10, 2020. China Daily via REUTERS

  • China has reported an outbreak of the deadly H5N1 bird flu in Hunan province, an area that lies on the southern border of the province where the coronavirus emerged, the South China Morning Post reported.
  • Although no human cases have been reported in the outbreak yet, the illness is deadlier than the coronavirus and SARS.
  • It's difficult to transmit the bird flu from person-to-person, but the mortality rate of the disease is about 60%.
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In the shadow of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, a lesser-known, but deadlier disease has emerged in a province near the center of the virus.

According to the South China Morning Post, China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs reported an outbreak of the often-fatal H5N1 bird flu in thousands of chickens in the Hunan province, which sits on the southern border of the Hubei province, the center of the coronavirus.

"The farm has 7,850 chickens, and 4,500 of the chickens have died from the contagion. Local authorities have culled 17,828 poultry after the outbreak," read a statement by China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs on February 1.

There are no reported human cases of the H5N1 avian flu, according to SCMP, and transmission of the disease to humans is difficult. Nearly all cases of the avian flu infection in people have been associated with "close contact with infected live or dead birds, or H5N1-contaminated environments," according to the World Health Organization.


However, the outbreak is a cause for concern because the contagion is often fatal, with a 60% mortality rate among infected humans - that's even deadlier than SARS or the coronavirus. Additionally, the H5N1 bird flu can cause severe respiratory illness, including pneumonia, and neurological changes such as an altered mental state or seizures.

"If the H5N1 virus were to change and become easily transmissible from person to person while retaining its capacity to cause severe disease, the consequences for public health could be very serious," a statement from WHO read.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention echoed concerns of the H5N1 bird flu for its "pandemic potential" due to the volatility of flu viruses.

"Flu viruses are constantly changing and animal flu viruses can change such that they may gain the ability to infect people easily and spread among people, causing a pandemic," read a statement from the CDC.

Like the coronavirus, the H5N1 avian flu was first detected in geese in China in 1996. The first human cases of the contagion occurred in 1997 amid a poultry outbreak in Hong Kong. The most recent case was reported in January 2014 from an individual who had recently returned to Canada from China.


"To date, there have not been any reports of HPAI Asian H5N1 virus infections in people in the United States and Asian H5N1 has never been detected in US birds or poultry," the CDC clarified.

The news of this secondary outbreak comes as China grapples with containing the coronavirus outbreak in its borders, which has killed over 900 in China and infected 40,000 globally. According to NPR, nearly 100 deaths were reported on Sunday alone, the highest single-day death toll since the outbreak emerged two months ago.

China's swift report of this secondary outbreak may be due to criticism of its slow response to the coronavirus. Although the first human case of the illness was discovered in December, the country did not announce the threat of the outbreak to citizens or world leaders until January.

As China races to build new hospitals and replenish food, test kits, and other critical medical supplies to combat coronavirus, another health threat would further stress already strained health care resources.