Millions of birds have already died from an ongoing outbreak of a deadly avian flu virus, which is now spreading to mammals, raising even more concern.
An infectious disease specialist by the name of Dr. Isaac Bogoch, told the CBC that “This is an infection that has pandemic potential. I do not know if people recognize how big a deal this is.”
The H5N1 bird flu has been around for a while. However, it mostly affected birds in poultry farms in the past.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assert that a “wild bird-adapted” strain of the virus emerged in 2020 as a result of gene-swapping between poultry and wild bird viruses.
Due to this, it was much simpler for migratory wild birds to transfer the disease to nearby domestic birds and other species.
Foxes, otters, seals and bears are just a few of the other mammals that researchers have discovered to be infected.
As for the danger it poses to people, the BBC reported that there have been 5 confirmed human cases and one death worldwide since October 2021.
Director of scientific services for the Animal and Plant Health Agency, Ian Brown, told the publication that he was “acutely aware of the risks” of bird flu spreading to humans.
“This global spread is a true concern. We do need to look at new strategies globally, those international partnerships, to get on top of this disease. If we do not solve the problem across the globe, we are going to continue to have that risk,” he stated.
Back in October, a serious outbreak took place on a Spanish mink farm.
The H5N1 virus is thought to have first been brought to the mink farm by wild birds, but once there, it spread from mink to mink, according to researchers.
Wild bird virus researcher Michelle Wille told the CBC that “This outbreak signals the very real potential for the emergence of mammal-to-mammal transmission.”
However, it’s important to note that while wearing protective gear, the workers at the mink farm remained untouched by the virus.
Regardless, some scientists are still concerned that bird flu spreading to minks may just be a stepping stone to human transmission.
A virologist from the Imperial College London by the name of Tom Peacock, shared via Science Magazine that “This is incredibly concerning. This is a clear mechanism for an H5 pandemic to start.”
Furthermore, Zeynep Tufekci, a journalist who has covered the COVID pandemic, wrote in the New York Times a piece titled “An Even Deadlier Pandemic Could Soon Be Here.”
Tufekci also talked to Peacock, who pointed out that minks’ respiratory systems made them really good hosts for viruses that can infect people as well.
Tufekci calls for a number of precautionary measures such as increasing testing capacity and speeding up vaccine development. She also calls for the closure of mink farms.