World Health Organization Director Tedros Ghebreyesus has predicted that a new deadly ‘human bird flu pandemic’ will strike later this year.
According to Tedoros, the WHO is engaging manufacturers “to make sure that if needed supplies of vaccines and antivirals will be available for global use.”
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Express.co.uk reports: The WHO chief urged countries to ramp up surveillance of areas where humans and animals interact. The organisation is working to ensure that supplies of vaccines and antivirals are made available if the situation worsens. Mr Ghebreyesus added that the WHO is in discussions with manufacturers.
WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said that four people were infected by the avian flu virus (H5N1) last year, with one case leading to death.
Mr Lindmeier warned that avian flu is an ongoing risk to human health as it has pandemic potential, meaning strong disease surveillance is crucial.
He said: “Surveillance in animals is important to catch any changes in the virus that have implications for human health.”
So far, there have been 200 cases recorded in mammals, including grizzly bears, mink, dolphins and seals. The disease has killed over 200 million birds, but in the UK it has also been linked to foxes and otters.
This comes after the H5N1 strain of avian flu virus was detected in a mink farm outbreak in the Galicia region of Spain. Investigations found mink-to-mink transmission could have occurred at the farm, although staff working there did not test positive for the virus.
However, the outbreak at the Carral mink farm in October 2022 gave the first indication that the flu can spread from one infected mammal to another.
Genetic sequencing revealed the animals were infected with a new variant of H5N1, which has genetic material from a strain found in gulls.
It also has a genetic change that could increase the ability of some animal-flu viruses to reproduce in mammals.
According to the WHO, there have been almost 870 cases of human infection with the avian influenza H5N1 virus reported from 21 countries over the last 20 years. Up to 457 of these cases were fatal. This indicates a relatively high case fatality rate in people who become infected.
The animals testing positive are believed to have been fed with dead or sick wild birds infected with Avian flu. While the animals testing positive had a mutation of the virus, making it more likely to infect mammals, there was no evidence of the virus jumping between mammals, unlike at the Spanish mink farm.
However, Prof Ian Brown, APHA’s director of scientific services, told BBC News: “The virus is absolutely on the march. And it’s almost remarkable – it’s a single strain. This global spread is a concern. We do need globally to look at new strategies, those international partnerships, to get on top of this disease. If we don’t solve the problem across the globe, we’re going to continue to have that risk.”
But Dr Meera Chand, incident director for avian influenza at UKHSA, said: “Latest evidence suggests that the avian influenza viruses currently circulating in birds do not spread easily to people. We remain vigilant for any evidence of changing risk.