The Looming Threat of Bird Flu: How Likely is Another Global Pandemic

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The Looming Threat of Bird Flu: How Likely is Another Global Pandemic

The concern over bird flu rose after a Texas farm worker got infected by the H5N1 strain of avian influenza. It is presumed that a dairy cow came in contact with the virus. Experts have cited that the deadly bird flu may be 100 times worse than the covid pandemic and could kill up to half of the population it infects, according to DailyMail, a UK-based tabloid. In a recent briefing, researchers talked about the new H5N1 variant of bird flu, assuming that the virus may eventually lead to another global pandemic soon. This variant has the potential to infect all categories of mammals, including humans as well. 

Dr. Suresh Kuchipudi, an eminent bird flu researcher in Pittsburgh said “We are getting dangerously close to the virus potentially causing a pandemic.” He further added “We are not really talking about a virus that is yet to make a jump, we are talking about a virus that is globally present, already infecting a range of mammals and is circulating…It is really high time that we are prepared.” A whopping number of 887 total cases have been recorded between 2003 and March 2024 by WHO with a high mortality rate, as per a report. The European Food Security Agency (EFSA) on Wednesday also raised concerns about a possible bird flu pandemic if the virus becomes transmissible because human bodies lack the required immune system to fight the virus. It has urged people to take necessary precautions.

The case of a Texas farm worker getting infected by the H5N1 variant marks only the second instance in a human. The first occurrence of the disease was witnessed in Colorado in 2022, wherein a man was exposed to infected poultry. Luckily in both cases, the symptoms were mild, with the Texas individual experiencing only conjunctivitis, or pink eye. At present, the H5N1 mutant does not hold the power to infect humans easily, yet scientists have issued a warning indicating possible changes that may give rise to a new pandemic.

What is Bird Flu?

Bird flu is a disease that is spread between birds or by the contact of birds with humans. This contact may include exposure to birds, bird faeces, or bird feathers. Symptoms of bird flu are fever, sore throat, cough, headache, and aching muscles. Fatal cases may lead to issues such as eye infections, pneumonia(which includes viral pneumonia), acute respiratory distress, and inflammation of the brain and heart. 

Precautions to stay safe

  • To prevent H5N1 from spreading, it is advisable to avoid contact with sick persons or dead birds and their secretions.
  •  Poultry products like chicken should be cooked thoroughly to kill the virus completely.
  • Individuals, especially children are advised to wash their hands frequently with soap and water. 
  • Immediately seek advice from medical professionals if one experiences symptoms such as fever, headache, cough, etc.
  • Anyone who has birds should develop a routine of cleaning and sanitizing cages, washing and changing food and water regularly, and keeping everything clean that may come in contact with their birds.
  • Close contact with other bird owners should be avoided, if possible. If that happens, make sure to clean your clothing, shoes, and other materials before going near to your birds.

Also Read: Introducing The JN 1 Variant : Risks, Impacts, and Precautions

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