Could bird flu become a human pandemic?

The world needs to be preparing now for a global pandemic as avian influenza (bird flu) spreads to mammals and eventually becomes transmissible between humans like other viruses.

That’s the worrying message from articles in the respected New York Times by columnist Zeynep Tufekci. In her latest article, she says bird flu keeps spreading to mammals “bringing it one step closer to a potential human outbreak”.

In a previous article, she said that a world just recovering from Covid-19 was now “facing the possibility of a pandemic of a far more deadly pathogen”.

Bird flu at the moment does not spread easily to humans, she noted, but when it does the fatality rate is 56%. That means that half of the people who contract bird flu could die. Covid outbreaks killed 1% to 2% of those infected before vaccines became available.

“The world needs to act now, before H5N1 has any chance of becoming a devastating pandemic. We have many of the tools that are needed, including vaccines. What’s missing is a sense of urgency and immediate action”.

Articles have stressed the need to prevent the virus mutating from mammals to humans and spreading more easily between humans. She has focused on the farming of minks, which are susceptible to both human flu and bird flu.

The Finnish Food Authority had noted if one animal caught both at the same time, that could give rise to a new, more transmissible variant for humans.

She has urged the closing of all mink farms in the US and Europe, the mass vaccination of poultry and pigs, another species susceptible to influenza, and vaccinations for workers on poultry and pig farms.

Bird flu kills sea lions in Argentina

The New York Times  noted bird flu had affected cats, foxes, raccoon dogs, dolphins and bears.

Poultry World report said bird flu had killed a large number of sea lions in Argentina.

At least 57 sea lions on the Atlantic coast of Argentina have died of bird flu, the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) has confirmed. The organisation calls the sea lions “an unusual host species” while the source of the event or origin of infection is unknown or inconclusive.

Earlier, the environmental authority of the Patagonia region on the southern tip of the country reported at least 50 dead specimens “with symptoms compatible with avian influenza”. 

The Argentinian National Service of Agrifood Health and Quality (Senasa) said sea lions contract the disease from sick wild birds. However research was underway with other countries “to determine if there were mutations of the virus that are being transmitted from mammal to mammal.”

Authorities have closed off several beaches and sea walks to prevent people from getting in contact with dead animals. Senasa also warned the public not to handle dead animals or visit poultry establishments or wild animal settlements after having been in contact with dead animals.