UK health officials use lessons from Covid to model the risk of bird flu

Scientist looking at a chicken

UK health experts are disclosing the specifics of their Covid-style plans to combat bird flu, including modeling for the improbable possibility that it could mutate and spread among humans as a pandemic.

Despite some people becoming ill after coming into contact with infected birds, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), there is no proof the H5N1 virus poses a serious threat to the public or can be transmitted between people.

However, there is no room for laziness.

We need to monitor the situation very carefully, a specialist told the BBC.

After an 11-year-old girl died of H5N1 in Cambodia, the World Health Organization (WHO) is urging increased vigilance from all nations.

According to Cambodia's health minister, the girl's father also tested positive.

Instead of a case of transmission from person to person, investigators are attempting to determine whether infected birds were the cause.

Bird flu rarely affects humans, but when it does, it usually results from close contact with infected birds.

One of the worst avian influenza outbreaks on record has been plaguing the world since late 2021, killing tens of millions of chickens and causing widespread devastation to wild bird populations.

In the UK, infections have been reported in foxes and otters, among other mammals.

According to Dr. Meera Chand of the UKHSA, the most recent data indicated that H5N1 could not currently spread easily among humans.

"Viruses, however, are constantly changing, so we must constantly be on the lookout for any indications of a population's risk changing, and we must also collaborate with others to fill in any gaps in the available scientific data. ".

The UKHSA is simulating: in order to be prepared for the worst-case scenario of human-to-human spread.

  • How many could contract an infection and become gravely ill.
  • how useful blood and lateral flow tests would be.
  • What genetic changes might be an indication of an elevated risk to human health.

There were no effective vaccines for the Covid virus when the pandemic first began. For bird flu, however, there are already a number of strong candidates that could be helpful.

According to experts at a meeting on Friday, WHO-affiliated labs already have two flu virus strains that are closely related to the circulating H5N1 virus that manufacturers can use to create new vaccines if necessary.

Nervtag, the organization that counsels the British government on new and emerging threats from respiratory viruses, is comprised of Prof. Peter Openshaw of Imperial College London.

He told the BBC that the fact that the Covid pandemic is still ongoing did not make it less likely that a new pandemic would emerge from somewhere else.

He said, "We've got to watch this one.".

The absence of human-to-human transmission is currently good news.

To use an old adage, "We must plan for the worst but obviously hope for the best. ".

The exasperated response of many to discussions of the risks from bird flu may very well be, "Not another pandemic.". .

Covid fatigue is understandable, but the H5N1 virus worries a lot of scientists who keep track of potential global health threats. .

Thankfully, it takes close contact for the virus to spread from birds to people. To realize the threat of a human pandemic, which would require the virus to mutate, that would need to change. .

The mortality rate is over 50% with 868 human cases reported to the WHO since 2003, 457 of which resulted in death. .

The world should be better prepared than it was when Covid first emerged, according to scientists, so better surveillance and increased investment in vaccines and antivirals are desired.

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