Don’t assume bird flu risk to humans will be low – Politico

Recent outbreaks of bird flu in mammals have led the World Health Organization to warn that while the risk to humans is currently low, it cannot be assumed that this will remain the case.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday that cases of avian influenza in minks, otters, foxes and sea lions reported in recent weeks needed to be closely monitored. “For the moment, WHO assesses the risk to humans as low,” he said. Tedros pointed to the fact that since the emergence of H5N1 in 1996 there have been only “rare and non-sustained” infections between and among humans.

“But we cannot assume that this will remain the case and we must be prepared for any change in the status quo,” he said.

In October, the H5N1 virus was detected in an outbreak at a mink farm in the Galicia region of Spain. Investigations have shown that mink-to-mink transmission may have occurred on the farm, with all workers testing negative for the virus.

Globally, four people were infected with the avian flu virus (H5N1) last year, one of whom died, WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said in emailed comments.

Avian flu poses an ongoing threat to human health due to the potential for future pandemics, and therefore robust disease surveillance is crucial, he said.

“It is important to monitor the animals to catch any changes in the virus that could have implications for human health,” the spokesperson said.

On Wednesday, Tedros called on countries to step up their surveillance of places where people and animals come into contact.

The WHO is also working to ensure that supplies of vaccines and antivirals are available if the worst happens. Tedros said the WHO continues to try to engage manufacturers on the issue