Bird Flu Could Become The Next Pandemic Affecting Humans As Outbreak Surfaces

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) identified a case of avian influenza (bird flu) in a person in the South West last week, according to the agency. It is believed that they contracted the virus via sick ducks that were kept in and near their residence. According to the authorities, the risk to the general public is minimal. But it advises people not to handle ill or dead birds since they could spread disease.

Is it reasonable to be concerned, and what can we do to help?

Avian influenza is a form of a virus that primarily affects birds, but it has also been reported to infect people. The H5N1 virus strain, which is spreading throughout the world, is of special concern. This is because it is extremely contagious among birds. Furthermore, it has the potential to sicken and kill domesticated species such as chickens, ducks, and turkeys.

It has resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of birds and the culling of hundreds of millions of others to curb its spread, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Bird flu in the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is suffering its largest-ever outbreak of bird flu, with new H5N1 cases in captive birds being recorded virtually daily, according to the World Health Organization. 

A total of about 70 properties (mostly commercial poultry farms) have been affected since the end of October 2021.

For example, in Lincolnshire, where there is a large density of poultry farms, around one million birds have been slaughtered to stop the spread of the disease. According to the BBC, this is the case.

Christine Middlemiss, a chief veterinary officer of the United Kingdom, said on BBC Radio 4’s Today program that she was “extremely concerned about what is occurring” as the disease spreads to more chicken farms and bird sanctuaries.

Measures of restraint

All pandemics that have occurred in the last century have been caused by zoonotic illnesses.

AIPZs (Avian Influenza Prevention Zones) and strong biosecurity measures to prevent the spread of disease were implemented across the United Kingdom beginning in early November of last year.

Following a court decision on November 29, it became allowed to confine all birds (including free-range and small backyard flocks) inside, thus putting them into lockdown mode.

However, it is not working.

Since the middle of December, a cluster of ten outbreaks near Alford, East Lindsey, in Lincolnshire has raised concerns about a possible breach of biosecurity protocols.

When birds come into direct touch with one another, the virus can transmit to them through contaminated body fluids, feces, and feathers. This disease can also be disseminated through contaminated feed and water sources. Alternatively, by agricultural equipment, vehicles, apparel, and footwear.

Is it possible for humans to contract avian flu?

Even though it primarily affects birds, H5N1 can infect a wide range of species, including humans. And when it happens, the death rate in the instances might be extremely high.

From January 2003 to December 30, 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 863 cases of H5N1 in individuals were reported from 18 countries worldwide between January 2003 and December 30, 2021.

Humans can become unwell as a result of avian flu. In total, 863 instances were reported, with 456 resulting in death. That’s more than half of the total.

Seasonal flu claims the lives of approximately 0.1 percent of infected individuals. The vast majority of cases were caused by individuals handling, slaughtering, or eating infected poultry, with only a handful of instances resulting from person-to-person transmissions among families caring for sick members of the family.

One of the reasons that H5N1 does not travel easily between humans is that it has not gained the ability to be transferred by aerosol or in respiratory droplets, as has been observed with seasonal flu or COVID-19.

Scientists, on the other hand, warn that it may only take a few mutations for the virus to be able to transmit through the air.

New Variants

A large number of birds housed in large, industrial-sized facilities provides an ideal setting for the development and mutation of infectious illnesses, which can be fatal.

Viruses “evolve,” which means that the situation could become much worse shortly…

The evolution of viruses has been well documented – the Omicron form of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, for example, is far more contagious than the Delta variety.

Because of the random accumulation of mutations in their genomes, influenza viruses are continually changing. This is why new flu vaccines are developed every year, to combat new strains of the virus that emerge.

The UKHSA’s chief scientific officer, Professor Isabel Oliver, stated that “at this time, there is no evidence that the strain that has been found in the United Kingdom may be transmitted from person to person.”

“However, we are aware that viruses are always evolving, and we will continue to actively monitor the situation.”

We are only three steps away from a pandemic…

“The pandemic influenza virus has its beginnings in avian influenza viruses,” according to the World Health Organization.

As a result, the human influenza viruses that have produced pandemics over the previous 100 years, notably the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, have their origins in avian influenza viruses.

In terms of pandemic potential, how near is H5N1 to being a threat?

  • According to one study, it may only take five mutations for the virus to become airborne and capable of spreading by tiny droplets produced by coughing or sneezing.
  • Alternatively, it has been suggested that only four mutations may be required in total.
  • A third study examined surveillance data and discovered that two of the five changes revealed are already frequent in H5N1 viruses in nature, according to a third study. As a result, certain viruses may only require three additional mutations to become more easily transmissible.

Experts provide cautionary statements

“If it killed afflicted people at even a quarter of this rate, the consequences would be catastrophic.”

Infectious Diseases that are Emerging

Senior public health expert at the World Health Organization (WHO), David Nabarro, has warned that a pandemic caused by H5N1 could result in the deaths of anywhere between five and 150 million people if it mutates and becomes more transmittable.

It’s difficult to comprehend such tragedy.

Scientists wrote in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases that if the virus were to become human-to-human transmissible with its current fatality rate of 50%, the subsequent pandemic would be comparable to a global tsunami in scale.

“If it killed afflicted people at even a quarter of this rate, the consequences would be catastrophic.”

What can we do to make a difference?

The poultry business prefers to point the finger at migrating birds for the spread of bird flu. Over 300 wild birds have been identified infected with the disease so far this winter, in more than 80 different sites.

The real issue, on the other hand, is factory farming. Wild birds unquestionably contribute to the local transmission of the virus in the wild, but it is human commercial activities, particularly those related to poultry, that are the most significant contributors to the worldwide spread of the virus.

The constant increase in the number of reported instances raises the question of whether poultry farmers are following the government’s directives as seriously as they should.

It would appear that this is not the case.

Bird flu has mutated from originally harmless forms found in wild birds to deadlier versions, according to Juliet Gellatley, founder and director of Viva Foundation! “Trading live animals in markets is what caused bird flu to mutate from originally harmless forms found in wild birds to deadlier versions,” she says.

Now, factory farms serve as an excellent breeding environment for a future epidemic,” says the author. In these hellholes, Viva! has gone in and uncovered the horrendous conditions that these birds are forced to undergo during their brief lives.

How will we be able to control bird flu if we continue to use factory farming?

“Every year in the United Kingdom, almost one billion chickens are slaughtered for their meat. Furthermore, around 95 percent of them are raised under harsh conditions on factory farms.

Approximately 24 billion chickens are kept as pets around the world, which equates to more than three chickens for every person on the earth. Whatever perspective you take, domesticated poultry is massively overrepresented in the world’s bird population.”

Intensive chicken production provides ideal breeding habitat for viruses that are capable of mutating.

Chickens are grown in industrial buildings that are closed, filthy, stressful, and overcrowded, with little or no access to natural light. This is crucial because ultraviolet light is harmful to viruses.

Viral mutations are literally being facilitated by us, creating a perfect storm that will allow them to evolve into more lethal forms.

Although the race to develop a universal flu vaccination has already begun, there is a much more straightforward option.

We could simply eliminate the viral reservoir and put an end to factory farming before it puts us all at risk!

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