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Amid Omicron surge, expert warns of new bird flu outbreak due to an emerging variant

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Amid Omicron surge, expert warns of new bird flu outbreak due to an emerging variant
Image Credit: Getty

“This time the situation is more difficult and more risky because we see more variants emerge, which make them harder to follow,” expert warns.

Concern has been expressed about the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza, also known as bird flu, by both governments and the poultry industry after earlier outbreaks resulted in the culling of tens of millions of birds and the imposition of trade restrictions in the poultry sector.

The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) warned that a bird flu outbreak in Asia and Europe poses a larger risk of human infection.

Bird flu, a highly dangerous strain of avian influenza that has spread throughout the world, has caused widespread alarm among governments and the poultry sector.

The killing of hundreds of thousands of birds and trade restrictions were imposed in the wake of previous epidemics.

“This time the situation is more difficult and more risky because we see more variants emerge, which make them harder to follow,” said Monique Eloit, OIE Director-General.

“Eventually the risk is that it mutates or that it mixes with a human flu virus that can be transmitted between humans then suddenly it takes on a new dimension,” she further added.

Between October and the end of December, fifteen nations had reported outbreaks of bird flu in poultry, the majority of which were caused by the H5N1 strain.

According to OIE data, Italy was the worst-hit country in Europe, with 285 outbreaks and over four million birds slaughtered as a result.

Wild bird migrations are a major source of transmission of the disease, which causes outbreaks to begin in the autumn.

H5N1 is one of the rare avian flu strains that has made its way into the human population.

The OIE reported 850 cases of infection, half of which died.

Several persons in China were infected with the H5N6 strain last year, causing concern among some specialists who believe that a previously circulating virus has mutated and may now be more contagious to humans.

However, Eloit emphasized that most countries have learnt to limit epidemics, and that human transmissions would be infrequent because bird flu is typically spread through close contact.

“If there are one, two or three humans infected it is worrying but it is not necessary to cry wolf too quickly about the risks of extension.

“It will depend on how the people have been infected,” she added.

Last month, a bird flu outbreak in northern Israel killed at least 5,200 migratory cranes and caused farmers to butcher hundreds of thousands of chickens as authorities struggle to contain the country’s greatest wildlife disaster in its history.

Image Credit: Getty

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