Bird flu pandemic possible, human immune system unprepared: EU warning

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EU sounds alarm on bird flu pandemic potential, human immune response under scrutiny.

LONDON, April 4: As avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, continues to proliferate among wild birds in the European Union, health officials are sounding alarms about the potential for a future human pandemic. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued an alert on Wednesday, highlighting the transmission of the virus between bird and mammal species, particularly in fur animal farms where outbreaks have been documented.

While instances of infected birds transmitting the virus to humans are rare, the EFSA cautioned that the evolution of new strains could pose a significant threat in the future. With global migration patterns of wild birds, there is a risk of new strains emerging with mutations that could facilitate transmission to mammals, including humans.

The agency emphasized the lack of immunity in humans against avian A (H5N1) influenza viruses, which could lead to large-scale transmission if efficient human-to-human spread were to occur. This underscores the urgency of preventive measures to mitigate the risk of a potential bird flu pandemic.

To address the threat, the EFSA recommended a range of actions, including enhanced surveillance targeting both humans and animals, rapid diagnostics, collaboration between animal and human sectors, and preventive measures such as vaccination. Effective communication strategies, along with strengthening veterinary infrastructure and enforcing biosecurity measures at farms, are also crucial in containing the spread of the virus.

Furthermore, the EFSA called for careful planning of poultry and fur animal farming, particularly in regions with significant waterfowl populations. These measures aim to minimize the risk of interspecies transmission and curb the spread of avian influenza.

Recent developments in the United States, where a person in Texas tested positive for H5N1 bird flu, underscore the global nature of the threat. While the risk assessment for the general public remains low, individuals with close or prolonged exposure to infected birds or animals are at greater risk.

Experts emphasize the importance of practicing proper infection prevention techniques, including frequent hand hygiene and receiving the annual influenza vaccine. Minimizing contact with birds and wild animals, where possible, is also recommended to reduce the risk of exposure to novel influenza strains.

As concerns over avian influenza continue to mount, vigilance and proactive measures are essential in preventing the emergence of a potential pandemic and safeguarding public health.

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