Health and Healthcare Systems

Cambodia bird flu viruses identified, plus other health stories to read this week

A person holds a test tube labelled "Bird Flu".

The World Health Organization is working with Cambodian authorities to manage the recent rise in bird flu cases. Image: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Shyam Bishen
Head, Centre for Health and Healthcare; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
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Global Health

This article is part of: Centre for Health and Healthcare

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  • This global round-up brings you health stories from the past seven days.
  • Top health news: Cambodia bird flu viruses identified; China hails "major decisive victory" over COVID-19; WHO says mpox remains a public health emergency.

1. Identified: viruses in Cambodian bird flu cases

The viruses that infected two people in Cambodia with avian influenza have been identified as an endemic type of bird flu already circulating in the country, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says. Recently reported cases had raised concerns they were caused by a new strain of H5N1, clade 2.3.4.4b, which emerged in 2020 and has caused record numbers of deaths among wild birds and domestic poultry worldwide in recent months.

However, preliminary sequencing led by Cambodia's health ministry suggests that isn't the case. It has identified the viruses as H5 clade 2.3.2.1c, which authorities have been aware of for a long time. (The word 'clade' means a group of organisms believed to be descended from a common ancestor.)

"This is an older clade of avian influenza that had been circulating around the region for a number of years, and while it has caused human infections in the past, it has not been seen to cause human-to-human transmission. However, that doesn't mean that the threat is any less," said Erik Karlsson, director of the National Influenza Center of Cambodia.

He added that the response needed to be coordinated and swift to prevent any further spread and to limit exposure to any common source. An investigation into the source and to detect any additional cases is ongoing, the CDC said, adding that so far there had been no indication of person-to-person spread.

Cambodia tested at least 12 people for the H5N1 strain last week, after an 11-year-old girl died from the virus in the first known transmission to humans in the country in nearly a decade. The victim's father also tested positive for the virus. The World Health Organization said it is working with Cambodian authorities and has described the situation as worrying, due to the recent rise in cases in birds and mammals.

2. WHO says mpox remains a public health emergency

The World Health Organization (WHO) says mpox remained a public health emergency of international concern, its highest level of alert, citing continued transmission in some countries.

The disease, previously called monkeypox, spreads via close contact and tends to cause flu-like symptoms. The WHO says 99 fatalities have been reported since January 2022. As of late February there had been just over 86,100 laboratory-confirmed cases.

Graphic showing number of cases of mpox worldwide. bird flu
There have been more than 86,100 confirmed cases of mpox worldwide. Image: WHO

Mpox was declared a global health emergency by the WHO in July 2022. The organization says that while the outbreak is effectively over in most of the countries where it began spreading, it continues to be a threat in the parts of west and central Africa where it is endemic.

3. News in brief: Health stories from around the world

Health authorities in China say the country's COVID-19 epidemic has "basically" ended, but it is not completely over, as a handful of imported cased has been detected this year. Officials said China's "major decisive victory" over the virus has set an example for populous nations in prevention and control.

There is not sufficient evidence to recommend more than one COVID-19 booster shot a year for older people and those with weakened immune systems, an expert advisory group to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised. The agency currently recommends older and immuno-compromised people receive booster shots more frequently since vaccine effectiveness usually wanes faster for those groups compared to younger people.

Clinical trials for cancer vaccines should start this year in the UK, BioNTech's top executive Ugur Sahin told German media. The company says its aim is for mRNA technology to soon become a regular treatment for cancer patients.

Bird flu has killed tens of thousands of birds, and at least 716 sea lions in protected areas across Peru, as the H5N1 strain spreads throughout the region. Cases have been detected in Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay, and more than 200 million birds have died worldwide since early 2021 due to disease or mass culling.

Maternal mortality rates climbed or stagnated in nearly all regions across the world in 2020, according to a report released by UN agencies. Research showed there were an estimated 287,000 maternal deaths worldwide in 2020, marking only a slight decrease from 309,000 in 2016.

One person with no travel history has died due to cholera in South Africa, as the number of confirmed cases in the country rises to five. The development follows rising cases of cholera in southern Africa, with Malawi experiencing its deadliest outbreak yet, with more than 1,300 deaths.

Scientists in the UK are assessing a possible rare side effect of widely used nasal decongestants, the BBC reports. Medication containing pseudo-ephedrine is being reviewed because of concerns over a potential heightened risk of seizures or strokes.

Some Chinese provinces are giving young newlyweds 30 days of paid leave in the hope of encouraging marriage and boosting a flagging birth rate, according to Chinese media. China's population fell last year for the first time in six decades, official data showed.

The amount of time that 65-year-olds in France can hope to live without health issues has increased by more than two years for both men and women since 2008. In 2021, men aged 65 could hope to live another 11.3 years without health issues and women another 12.6 years, according to the country's statistics agency.

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