Apparently seven people in Russia have been given the bird. The bird flu, that is. And it was some fowl play.
Back in November 2020, I wrote for Forbes about how an avian influenza strain, A(H5N8), was spreading among birds in Europe. Well, it appears that this strain has since made it from birds to some humans. TASS, the Russian News Agency, reported the detection of this strain of the flu in seven poultry farm workers in southern Russia. They quoted Anna Popova, Head of the Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing, as saying: “scientists of the Vector Center isolated the genetic material of this kind of bird flu in seven workers of a poultry farm in the south of the Russian Federation, where an outbreak in bird population was recorded in December 2020.” These would have been the first confirmed cases of A(H5N8) bird flu infections in the world.
TASS reported that all seven farm workers are now in “good health” with the clinical course being “very mild.” According to TASS, Popova said that “The data on the first case of the infection of humans with the A(H5N8) flu have already been sent to the World Health Organization (WHO). This happened a few days ago, as soon as we became absolutely confident in our results.” They didn’t elaborate on exactly when in December the cases emerged and when Russian authorities actually became aware of the issue. In other words, it’s not clear who knew what when where and how. Apparently, the WHO does know about this now.
Of course, news of humans getting infected by a strain of the bird flu is typically not good. It’s not as if you should say, “way to go viruses! You made it!” Anytime a human gets infected for the first time with a virus that normally infects other animals, there is the potential for major trouble. Your immune system is not used to getting infected with such viruses and, therefore, may not be ready to provide adequate defense. It would be like a cat showing up at your house with a space laser. You wouldn’t quite know what to do and would not be prepared to offer the proper response. An example of a appropriate response might be asking, “would you consider putting down that space laser and sharing some avocado toast with me instead” or simply “meow.”
Even worse, when your immune system is not used to such a threat, it could overreact. It can be like a nervous guy who doesn’t know what to do on a date, just trying anything. Should he talk about his muscles or his car? Should he offer more compliments or sing the song “Hallelujah?” Similarly, your immune system could release all sorts of chemicals and mobilize cells in an misguided effort to stamp out the threat. As a result, your immune system could still miss the virus but along the way severely damage your own body.
This is essentially what happened when the Covid-19 coronavirus, otherwise known as the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2) in case you want to use more words to describe the same thing, somehow made its way from other animals such as bats to humans. You as a human, assuming that you are human and not a hedgehog dressed as a human, did not have the proper defenses in your body set up already. When you got infected with the SARS-CoV2, you and your immune system were essentially caught with your proverbial pants down, unless of course your were on a Zoom call without your pants.