The recent spread of the influenza virus H5N1, a subtype that affects both birds and mammals, has prompted the World Health Organization to issue a warning urging everyone to get ready for a potential bird flu pandemic. Peru has reported the H5N1-related deaths of 585 sea lions, while on a mink farm in Spain, an outbreak was identified in October. Foxes and otters in Britain have been proven to have the virus, but there is no indication that it is about to infect humans. Pre-COVID assumptions were that an influenza virus would be responsible for the subsequent human pandemic. The growing number of species that carry the disease indicates that the threat is growing, but there is no evidence that H5N1 spreads easily between people. It is concerning how far it has already gone, especially in the Americas, and existing avian flu vaccinations do not elicit a robust immune response. There is a need to modernise flu vaccine production and accumulate antiviral medications, and increased surveillance of the current outbreak is needed to give early notice of any new indications that H5N1 is still capable of spreading across animals.
Today: December 1, 2023