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Alarm bells ring over H5N1 bird flu: Experts warn of pandemic worse than Covid

Apr 04,2024

New Delhi: Experts are sounding the alarm over the potential for a bird flu pandemic that could be significantly more devastating than the COVID-19 crisis, with the H5N1 strain posing a particularly dire threat. According to recent briefings, virus researchers have indicated that H5N1 is inching “dangerously close” to triggering a global pandemic, with the White House saying it is actively “monitoring” the evolving situation.

The urgency of the matter was underscored by the discovery of multiple H5N1 infections across a variety of mammals, including cows, cats, and humans, which raises concerns about the virus mutating to become more easily transmissible among humans. This development comes on the heels of a dairy farm worker in Texas testing positive for the virus, along with infections reported in 12 herds of cows across six states and three cats in Texas that succumbed to the virus, a Daily Mail report said.

Dr Suresh Kuchipudi, a prominent bird flu researcher, warned that we are nearing the threshold of a potential pandemic caused by H5N1. He emphasised that the virus has already shown the ability to infect a wide range of mammalian hosts, including humans, making it a formidable pandemic threat. Echoing this sentiment, John Fulton, a pharmaceutical industry consultant, highlighted the grave implications of H5N1 mutating while maintaining its high fatality rate, which could result in a pandemic far worse than COVID-19.

“This appears to be 100 times worse than COVID, or it could be if it mutates and maintains its high case fatality rate,” Fulton said.

The World Health Organisation has estimated the fatality rate for H5N1 at a staggering 52 percent, based on the data collected since 2003. In contrast, COVID-19’s fatality rate is significantly lower, emphasising the potential severity of a widespread H5N1 outbreak. Recent cases since 2020 show that nearly 30 percent of individuals infected with the new strain of H5N1 have died.

As the situation unfolds, the White House and health experts are urging for increased vigilance and preparedness. The White House press secretary assured the public that the health and safety of Americans are a top priority and that measures are being taken to monitor and address the bird flu outbreak.

Beyond the immediate health risks, the spread of H5N1 has broader economic implications, particularly for the dairy and poultry industries. With infected cattle showing symptoms and a requirement to cull infected birds, there could be a significant impact on the supply and pricing of milk and eggs.

Source: Healthworld

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