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Bird flu: Countries considering vaccination for birds as H5N1 outbreak spreads

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Scientists want to roll out a new vaccine for deadly bird flu as the H5N1 virus spreads.

The virus is spreading across every continent except Australia and Antarctica, sparking calls for birds to be vaccinated against the disease amid fears it could soon find a way to easily jump to mammals – and then humans.

Ian Barr, the deputy director of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, revealed the extent of the virus’ reach.

“We know the virus is extremely widespread in the Northern Hemisphere and is now starting to move into South America, which it’s never done before,” he said.

Experts fear that, based on that, Australia could be next.

The situation has pushed the European Union and the Biden administration in the US to consider implementing avian vaccines.

Until recently, many countries, including Australia, have been hesitant to vaccinate poultry over fears it could affect trade. But the tide is turning.

“We encourage countries currently experiencing significant losses of poultry due to HPAI outbreaks to take up vaccination,” the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry said.

While routine vaccination for bird flu is currently banned in Australia, that could shift in the future.

“If Australia were also suffering or facing such losses, we would be encouraging our own industry to adopt vaccination,” the spokesperson said.

As the world struggles to contain the spread of the virus, many are looking to scientists and experts to find a solution before it reaches catastrophic levels.

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, Australian National University infectious diseases expert Peter Collignon confirmed the seriousness of the escalating situation.

“I think we need to be concerned and monitor what’s going on,” he told the publication.

“I don’t think we need to have a view that the world will end tomorrow because this is going to be worse than Covid-19.”

So far, a great deal of attention has been on the economic ways the outbreak will impact humans, with experts warning it could disrupt supplies of eggs and chicken meat, and potentially other meats too, especially bacon and pork products.

The price of eggs has already skyrocketed to record levels in some nations after H5N1 began circulating again late last year.

There is also growing speculation it could potentially impact human health, given the virus has already been transmitted from birds to mammals.

“Experimental and field evidence have demonstrated that minks are susceptible and permissive to both avian and human influenza A viruses (and) could serve as a potential mixing vessel for the interspecies transmission among birds, mammals and humans,” a paper published in Eurosurveillance in January read.

A total of 864 human cases of H5N1 have been reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) since 2003, with 456 human deaths recorded, giving an estimated fatality rate of about 50 per cent.

And while World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently said the risk to humans was low at the moment, that could easily change.

“The recent spillover to mammals needs to be monitored closely,” he said at a press briefing last week.

“For the moment, WHO assesses the risk to humans as low.

“But we cannot assume that will remain the case. And we must prepare for any change in the status quo.”

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