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H5N1 virus: Bird flu spreads across the globe, threatening food supply

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The largest ever bird flu outbreak is rapidly spreading across the globe, sparking fears Australia could soon be impacted.

The current outbreak is caused by the deadly H5N1 strain, which has already spread to hundreds of mammals after killing hundreds of millions of birds worldwide.

It has already been detected in species across Asia, Europe, North and South America and Africa, and there are growing concerns about just how serious the latest crisis will become.

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.

However, he cautioned against panic.

“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,” Professor Collignon said.

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 have already skyrocketed to record levels in some nations after H5N1 first began circulating late last year.

However, 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.”

And according to Reuters, the sheer number of cases of the virus in wild bird populations indicates that it will be next to impossible to bring outbreaks in chicken farms under control any time soon.

A string of industry insiders also told Reuters the virus was now a year-round concern, and not merely during the spring migration seasons, which was previously the case.

“It’s a new war,” Bret Marsh, the state veterinarian in the US state of Indiana, told the network.

“It’s basically a 12-month vigil.”

Earlier this week, Argentina and Uruguay detected their first infections, with both nations declaring national sanitary emergencies.

And for now at least, it seems the threat is here to stay.

“The continuous circulation of the virus poses great risks and may result in more spillover events in mammals,” Isabella Monne, a veterinarian at IZSVe, recently told the Bulletin.

“A virus that is able to transmit to mammals needs to be stopped before it may become a matter of public health concern, as we learnt from the SARS-CoV2 lesson.”

Luckily, there have never been any cases of H5N1 detected in Australia, although strains of the HPAI virus have been found in the past.

But with the latest outbreak spreading faster and further than ever before, local experts are on high alert and desperately hoping the devastating virus won’t reach our shores.

Story Credit: news.com.au

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