Girl who died of bird flu did not have widely-circulating variant

Scientist who sequenced the virus isolated from a Cambodian girl says it is not the strain causing mass deaths in birds globally.

An 11-year-old girl in southern Cambodia who died last week after being infected with avian influenza A (H5N1) had a different strain than the one causing mass deaths in wild and domestic birds globally, says the scientist who led the effort to sequence viral samples from the girl. Scientists were initially concerned that the girl might have been infected with the widely circulating virus that is now spreading in some mammal species and has infected a handful of people since 2020.

Erik Karlsson, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, spoke to Nature about how he and his colleagues sequenced the full genome of the virus sample from the young girl in less than a day before sharing the data on the public repository GISAID. He says the sequenced virus belongs to a group that has been found in chickens and ducks in the region for at least a decade, although the girl is the first person to be detected with H5N1 in the country in nine years.

The Cambodian Ministry of Health has swabbed 12 of her close contacts, and only her 49-year-old father has tested positive. H5N1 infections typically occur in people who have been in close contact with poultry, and so far, there is no evidence that this strain has spread between people. Investigations into how the girl was exposed to the virus are underway.

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