Bird Flu Jumped From Son to Father
Family Members of Bird Flu Cases May Be at Risk
WebMD News Archive
April 7, 2008 -- A Chinese father, 52, barely survived bird
flu he caught from his son, 24, who died.
The December 2007 cases are only the second time scientists have
demonstrated probable human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 bird flu virus.
But a fourth of the 378 known human cases of H5N1 bird flu have occurred in two
or more "epidemiologically linked" clusters of people -- usually other
Of course, family members may share exposure to sick poultry. This is by far
the main way people get the virus. That's because H5N1 is still a bird virus,
and has not adapted to human hosts.
However, the virus may well adapt to individuals unlucky enough to catch it
from humans. Family members, are genetically similar. This means people may be
at higher risk of catching the deadly virus from a relative than from someone
to whom they are not related, suggest Nguyen Tran Hien, MD, MPH, PhD, of
Vietnam's National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, and colleagues in an
editorial in the April 8 online issue of The Lancet.
"All family contacts of a patient with probable or confirmed H5N1 should
be given [preventive treatment with flu drugs] and placed under
surveillance," Nguyen and colleagues write. "Personal protection and
advice must be extended to the family members and health workers visiting and
looking after patients in the hospital."
The World Health Organization is currently following a cluster of human
cases of H5N1 bird flu in Peshawar, Pakistan. Four members of this family fell
ill -- three with confirmed bird flu and one with "probable" bird flu.
Two died and two recovered fully.
"Laboratory tests results support ... the final risk assessment that
suggested limited human-to-human transmission likely occurred among some of the
family members," the WHO report states. "This outbreak did not extend
into the community, and appropriate steps were taken to reduce future risks of
Father Gets Bird Flu from Son
Details on the sad case of the Chinese father and son come from Hua Wang,
MD, of the Jiangsu Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and
colleagues, also in the April issue of Lancet.
The son, a salesman, lived in an urban area with his mother. He had not been
feeling well since August 2007, but on Nov. 24 he came down with a fever. He was given antibiotics
and sent home. Three days later he was hospitalized with pneumonia.
Blood cultures on Nov. 28 detected a Salmonella infection
(probably the cause of his earlier illness) and he was treated with
antibiotics. Five days after entering the hospital, he died -- the same day a
sample of lung fluid detected infection with H5N1 bird flu.
Meanwhile, the young man's father had been helping to care for him in the
hospital. Even though he performed intimate care -- changing the son's diarrhea-soiled clothing and bed
sheets, feeding him, and cleaning out a spittoon used for sputum -- the father
was not given protective gear until the son's H5N1 infection was detected.