World Health Organization warns of need to closely monitor cases of disease.
The head of the World Health Organization called for preparation in response to recent reports of H5N1 bird flu spreading to mammals.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that over the past few weeks there have been several reports of mammals including minks otters foxes and sea lions being infected with H5N1 avian influenza.
“H5N1 has spread widely in wild birds and poultry for 25 years but the recent spillover to mammals needs to be monitored closely,” he said. “For the moment WHO assesses the risk to humans as low.”
Ghebreyesus said H5N1 first emerged in 1996 and scientists have only seen rare and non-sustained transmission of H5N1 to and between humans.
“But we cannot assume that will remain the case, and we must prepare for any change in the status quo,” he said.
He warned against touching or collecting sick or dead animals, and encouraged those who encounter such to report them to local authorities.
“WHO is working with national authorities and partners to monitor the situation closely and to study cases of H5N1 infection in humans when they occur,” he said.
He said said the organization is also continuing to engage with manufacturers to make sure that if needed supplies of vaccines and antivirals would be available for global use.
Growing Number of Cases in Mammals
The organization recommended that countries strengthen surveillance in settings where humans and farm or wild animals interact.
Peruvian officials said on Feb. 7 that tests on three sea lions found dead in November and one dolphin were positive for H5N1, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota reported .
At least 585 sea lions and 55,000 wild birds have been found dead in seven of the country’s coastal nature preserves, likely due to avian flu, the center said.
The reports add to a growing number of detections in mammals, including recent reports from the United Kingdom and H5N1 in farmed minks in Spain.
The U.S. has so far reported 110 detections in mammal species.
Seven human H5N1 infections have been reported, all involving people who had close contact with poultry. Some illnesses were mild, but some were severe or fatal. So far, no human-to-human transmission has been reported, CIDRAP said.
The news comes as the world is trying to move on from the covid-19 outbreak.
During his State of the Union Address, President Joe Biden said that “while the virus is not gone…we have broken Covid’s grip on us.”
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