The Avian Flu: Are we looking at the next possible pandemic?
16 Feb 2023 • It is a bloody trail: Avian flu has killed 15 million domestic birds and led to the culling of an unprecedented 193 million more since October 2021. But recently bird flu has spread to mammals. This week Argentina and Uruguay declared national health emergencies following outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1, the fast-moving virus that destroys poultry flocks and wild birds, and for decades has been feared as a possible spark for a pandemic among people. Combine the sea lions infection from Peru with the revelation that H5N1 flu invaded a mink farm in Spain in October, and the health authorities must now confront the possibility that the unpredictable virus may have adapted to threaten other species. There have only been five human bird flu cases in the last year. But past human cases of H5N1 avian influenza have had a 53 percent mortality, according to the WHO. In January, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported avian influenza in a young girl in Ecuador, the first such case ever in Latin America. This drastic series of outbreaks is leading to concerns that a mutation could eventually hit humans and make COVID-19 seem mild! The short answer: For the moment, the risk of consistent bird flu transmissions to — and between — humans is low, according to scientists. But the fast-proliferating avian influenza infection is becoming a contender virus that could drive the next pandemic, one with a mortality rate that, if it spreads among humans, could make COVID-19 seem mild in comparison.