Avian flu: Will this be the next pandemic to threaten humanity?

By | May 16, 2023

As soon as the coronavirus pandemic ended, the great debate began about what could be the next threat to humanity.

In recent days, the experts’ estimates that the disease may come from bird flu have increased. Data collected from various countries around the world confirm the above, and scientists warn that since the tools to deal with it exist, due to the exhaustion of Covid-19 and obstruction at the political level, people should not be caught off guard again.

As The Guardian writes, last month a domestic dog in Canada died from the H5N1 virus, also known as bird flu, after eating a wild goose. However, since November there have been many related incidents and their increase is extremely worrying. In January and February, more than 3,000 sea lions died of bird flu in Peru (where the total number of wild bird deaths is estimated at 50,000).

The disturbing facts

In Russia, 700 Caspian seals and several dolphins in Britain and the United States have also died from the H5N1 virus. Normally, even if an animal catches H5N1 from a bird, it cannot transmit it to other mammals. This limits its spread. However, the large number of cases in these outbreaks suggests the possibility of mammal-to-mammal transmission, although this has not yet been confirmed by genetic sequencing. A more likely hypothesis is that these outbreaks involve groups of animals that feed on infected birds. It’s still not 100% clear what’s going on.

But the risk of spread between mammals is always present. New research from Canada, not yet published in full, has shown that H5N1 samples can be efficiently spread among ferrets with fatal results. But to effectively spread to humans, H5 would need three main categories of genetic changes, according to Professor Richard Webby, an expert on bird flu.

So far, the virus has managed to make one of these changes, but not the other two. Therefore, at this time, H5N1 is a theoretical risk for the next human pandemic, rather than a threat that must be addressed immediately. From this point of view, a Prime Minister or a Minister of Health is the easiest to say, “why prepare for something that may never happen?”

What do the scientists say?

But for global health scientists, the signs are many and action must be agreed and start soon. That way, if a particular set of mutations occurs and we see a human outbreak in Peru or China or Great Britain, the damage that will be done will be minimal. It is a disease with an estimated mortality rate of 50-60% in humans, including children.

The pillars of infectious disease preparedness are: 1) surveillance (to know which strain is spreading where in birds) 2) testing (to quickly detect disease in humans) 3) vaccinations (to protect against disease and infection). death) and antivirals (to improve clinical outcomes).

The United States government is already moving in this direction. Rebecca Katz, a professor at Georgetown University Medical Center, noted that an H5 vaccine candidate recently produced by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is likely to provide good protection against circulating H5N1 viruses. .

Vaccines and problems

This information was shared with vaccine manufacturers to begin the process of stockpiling sufficient doses. But this is challenging because most flu vaccines are created by incubating doses in chicken eggs. If bird flu has killed a lot of chickens, there is likely to be a shortage of eggs.

There is another H5N1 vaccine that is not based on eggs, but it takes six months to produce 150 million doses. It should be noted that the world population is almost 8 billion people. In addition, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved antiviral treatments for seasonal flu may also work against bird flu. However, once again, channeling doses to all parts of the world is very challenging due to scarcity.

All of the above can be solved with careful planning, cooperation between countries, scientific ingenuity and good leadership. With the exhaustion of Covid-19 visible all around us, the biggest problem is informing the public on time and correctly to regain lost trust in scientists and world leadership to avoid the dreaded scenario of a pandemic worse than the last, another endless one. . nightmare.

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