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HomeWorldPandemic Experts Express Concern Over Avian Influenza Spread To Humans

Pandemic Experts Express Concern Over Avian Influenza Spread To Humans


The ongoing global spread of “bird flu”
infections to mammals including humans is a significant
public health concern, senior UN medics said on Thursday, as
they announced new measures to tackle airborne
diseases.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Chief Scientist
at the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the avian
influenza virus – which is also known as H5N1 – has had an
“extremely high” mortality rate among the several
hundred people known to have been infected with it to
date.

To date, no human-to-human H5N1
transmission has been recorded.

“H5N1 is
(an) influenza infection, predominantly started in poultry
and ducks and has spread effectively over the course of the
last one or two years to become a global zoonotic – animal
– pandemic,” he said.

“The great concern, of
course, is that in doing so and infecting ducks and chickens
– but now increasingly mammals – that that virus now evolves
and develops the ability to infect humans. And then
critically, the ability to go from human-to-human
transmission
.”

Cattle
mystery

Commenting on an ongoing outbreak of H5N1
virus among dairy cows in the United States, the WHO senior
official urged further close monitoring and
investigation
by public health authorities,
“because it may evolve into transmitting in different
ways”.

He added: “Do the milking structures of
cows create aerosols? Is it the environment which they’re
living in? Is it the transport system that is spreading this
around the country? This is a huge concern and I think we
have to … make sure that if H5N1 did come across
to humans with human-to-human transmission, that we were in
a position to immediately respond with access equitably to
vaccines, therapeutics and
diagnostics
.”

Equal to next
pandemic

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The development comes as the WHO announced
updated language to describe airborne pathogens, in a bid to
increase international cooperation in the event of a new –
and expected – global pandemic.

The initiative was
originally sparked by the COVID-19 emergency
and the recognition that there was a lack of
commonly agreed terms
among medics and scientists
to describe how the coronavirus was transmitted, which
increased the challenge of overcoming it, Dr Farrar
explained.

Global appeal

To counter this, the
WHO led consultations with four major public health agencies
from Africa, China, Europe and the United States, before
announcing agreement on a number of agreed new terms. These
include “infectious respiratory particles” or
“IRPs”, which should be used instead of “aerosols”
and “droplets”, to avoid any confusion about the size of
the particles involved.

Over and above the new
terminology, the initiative cements the commitment of the
international community to tackle ever “more complex and
more frequent epidemics and pandemics”, Dr Farrar told
journalists in Geneva.

“It’s a hugely important
first step. But next, we need to keep the disciplines, the
experts together.

“We’re using the same terminology,
the same language, and now we need to do the science that
provides the evidence on tuberculosis, on COVID and other
respiratory pathogens, so that we know how to control those
infections better than we have done in the past.”

On
the potential HN51 public health risk, the WHO Chief
Scientist cautioned that vaccine development was not
“where we need to be”
. Neither was it the case
that regional offices and country offices and public health
authorities around the world have the capability to diagnose
H5N1, he
noted.

© Scoop Media

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