WHO Raises Alarm Over Spread of H5N1 Avian Influenza to New Species, Including Humans

FILE PHOTO: A person holds a test tube labelled "Bird Flu", in this picture illustration, January 14, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

United States: Sounding alarmed on Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised concerns regarding the escalating dissemination of H5N1 avian influenza to novel species, encompassing humans, who confront an “exceedingly elevated” fatality ratio.

“This remains, I believe, a vast apprehension,” conveyed Jeremy Farrar, the principal scientist of the United Nations health agency, to journalists in Geneva, according to news agency AFP.

Commencing in 2020, the present avian influenza epidemic has resulted in the demise of tens of millions of domestic fowl, with migratory birds also succumbing alongside terrestrial and aquatic mammals.

Cattle and caprines were appended to the roster last month—an unforeseen progression for specialists since they were not deemed susceptible to this variant of influenza.

The A (H5N1) subtype has transmuted into “a worldwide zoonotic animal pandemic,” Farrar asserted.

“The paramount anxiety, naturally, is that by… infecting waterfowl and poultry and then progressively mammals, that pathogen now mutates and acquires the ability to infect humans and subsequently, critically, the capacity to transition from human to human,” the health expert added, according to the reports by AFP.

Thus far, there exists no substantiation of influenza A (H5N1) virus transmission among humans.

However, in the myriad of instances where humans contracted the virus through animal interaction, “the fatality ratio is exceedingly high,” Farrar articulated.

From the inception of 2023 up to April 1 this year, WHO noted 463 fatalities out of 889 human incidents spanning 23 nations, elevating the fatality proportion to 52 percent.

In an alarming turn of events, US authorities divulged earlier this month that an individual in Texas was convalescing from avian influenza post-exposure to dairy bovines.

It marked only the second occurrence of human detection of avian flu in the country, following the virus’s affliction on herds ostensibly exposed to wild avians in Texas, Kansas, and other regions.

Representation for doctors discussing about increased Bird Flu cases

Furthermore, it seems to have marked the initial human contagion with the influenza A(H5N1) virus subtype via contact with an infected mammal, as per WHO’s disclosure.

“When you infiltrate the mammalian populace, you approach closer to humans,” Farrar cautioned, emphasizing that “this pathogen is actively seeking new, unconventional hosts.”

“It’s an enormous concern,” said experts, as noted by the news agency.

Farrar advocated for the fortification of surveillance, contending that it was “vital to comprehend the extent of human infections… because that’s where the adaptation (of the virus) will ensue.”

“It’s a lamentable assertion, but if I succumb to H5N1 and I perish, that’s the termination. If I traverse the community and disseminate it to another individual, then the cycle commences.”

He elucidated that endeavors were in progress toward formulating vaccines and therapies for H5N1, underscoring the necessity to ensure that regional and national health authorities globally possess the capability to diagnose the virus.

This initiative was being undertaken so that “if H5N1 were to transition to humans, with human-to-human transmission,” the world would be “ready to respond immediately,” Farrar declared, advocating for fair access to vaccines, therapies, and diagnostics.

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