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Avian flu poses an increasing risk to humans. Here's what we know, and a link to all of our coverage.
Words by Sentient Media
On July 12, agencies of the United Nations warned that as outbreaks of new strains of H5N1 avian influenza continue to rise around the world, the mutating disease poses an increasing danger of human infection with bird flu. The UN called on nations to make improvements to hygiene on poultry farms to reduce the risk.
Among the causes for concern is a surging number of cases found in mammals.
In a statement, the FAO, WHO and the WOAH wrote that while the disease still does not appear to be easily transmissible between humans, that could change.
“Avian influenza viruses normally spread among birds, but the increasing number of H5N1 avian influenza detections among mammals — which are biologically closer to humans than birds are — raises concern that the virus might adapt to infect humans more easily,” the statement reads. “In addition, some mammals may act as mixing vessels for influenza viruses, leading to the emergence of new viruses that could be more harmful to animals and humans.”
Recent research also suggests that mammalian infections with avian flu are becoming more severe.
The agencies urged world governments and health officials to enhance their surveillance of the disease in both animals and humans, and noted that they can “prevent avian influenza at its source” through “enhanced biosecurity measures in farms and in poultry value chains.”
In 2022, 131 million farmed birds across 67 countries died or were culled due to avian flu, according to the UN agencies. This year, outbreaks have been identified in 14 countries to date, with the majority of the disease’s spread seen in the Americas and “several mass death events have been reported in wild birds.”
Our most recent reporting covers new research of genetic mutations of avian flu, the impact of the disease on communities and workers in the Yucatan and outbreaks in Europe.
Our reporting has also tracked impacts to backyard chicken keepers, pandemic risk related on the rise, media analysis and threats to wild birds in Latin America:
Global and U.S. Agency Reporting and Surveillance Resources:
Early reporting tracked disease spread from 2021 through early 2022
This post was last updated June 26, 2023.
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