Four people who plucked feathers from H5N1 infected swans have died, in the first confirmed cases of bird flu being passed to humans from wild birds.
The victims, from a village in Azerbaijan, were plucking the feathers from dead birds to sell for pillows. Three other people were infected by the swans but survived.
The cluster of cases in Azerbaijan was first reported in March, with six of the seven infected coming from the same family. The cause of their infection was difficult to determine, as the victims initially denied having any contact with potentially infected birds, because hunting and trading wild birds and their products is illegal in the area. When the family admitted that there had been contact with dead swans, further investigations revealed the H5N1 virus.
Andreas Gilsdorf of the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, who led the team that made the discovery, said: “As far as we know this is the first transmission from a wild bird, but it was a very intensive contact. We know that the virus is carried by swans and we know that you can catch the virus if you have close contact, so it doesn’t change anything, it’s just the first time it has been reported.”
Almost all of the other confirmed human cases of bird flu have been linked to infected domestic poultry.