There is currently an outbreak of a disease called avian influenza in Europe, which affects birds. This outbreak is being called the worst ever seen in Europe. Avian influenza has different types, and one of them is known as H5N1. This type was first seen in 1997 and has infected around 850 people since then. Although this is a small number, about half of the people who got infected with H5N1 have died.
In 2020, a new type of virus called avian flu A H5N1 appeared. This virus has spread quickly among wild birds and also affected certain types of animals like minks, badgers, pigs, and bears.
Less than 10 people are known to have caught this new type of avian flu, and one of them has died. From October 2021 to October 2022, there were 6,615 cases of this flu in animals in 37 different countries. Since October 2022, researchers have seen a total of 2,701 cases of avian flu.
Will H5N1 cause the next human pandemic?
The H5N1 strain of bird flu is very deadly, with a mortality rate of 50%, which means that out of 100 people who get infected, 50 may die. This is a higher mortality rate compared to other recent flu pandemics, including the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic, which had a mortality rate of less than 1%.
Public health authorities are very concerned about this new H5N1 virus, as it could cause a lot of harm if it were to spread efficiently among humans. Researchers say that if this new lineage of H5N1 were to mutate and find a way to easily spread from person to person, it could result in a catastrophic global outbreak. They say it is important to monitor the virus and take necessary measures to prevent its spread.
According to experts, there is very little chance of the new H5N1 avian flu virus spreading easily among humans. All the people who have tested positive for this virus have been in close contact with sick wild birds. Richard Pebody, who works for the World Health Organization, says that this means people who don't have close contact with sick birds are less likely to get sick. SThe avian flu H5N1 can only spread among people if it changes in a way that allows it to easily spread from one person to another. However, there is no evidence to suggest that this has happened with the new lineage of H5N1.
However, researchers are worried that this virus is spreading among animals other than birds, such as minks, badgers, pigs, and bears.
How to protect yourself against avian influenza
Pebody suggests that the best way for people to stay safe from H5N1 is to avoid handling birds, especially if they don't work with them. The risk of catching the virus is still low, but it's better to be cautious.
For people who work on poultry farms or have chickens or hens in their backyard, Pebody recommends wearing personal protective equipment when handling the animals to prevent getting infected.