The woman who died was a 56-year-old from Guangdong province in southeast China. She fell ill on February 22, was hospitalized for severe pneumonia on March 3 and died on March 16, the WHO said.
“The patient had multiple underlying conditions. She had a history of exposure to live poultry before the onset of the disease, and a history of wild bird presence around her home,” the UN health agency said in a statement.
“No close contacts of the case developed an infection or symptoms of illness at the time of reporting,” it added.
While exposure to a live poultry market may have caused the infection, “it is still unclear what the exact source of this infection is and how this virus is related to other avian influenza A(H3N8) viruses that are circulating in animals,” the WHO said, calling for further animal and human investigations.
“It appears that this virus does not have the ability to spread easily from person to person, and therefore the risk of it spreading among humans at the national, regional, and international levels is considered to be low,” the Geneva-based organization said.
H3N8 is known to have been circulating since 2002 after first emerging in North American waterfowl. It is known to infect horses, dogs and seals.