24 Jan Avian Influenza: What Does it Mean for Global Health and the Spread of Zoonotic Diseases Today?
This week, the World Health Organization urged increased disease surveillance and prevention efforts in response to highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreaks across Europe.
Since November, a growing number of bird flu strains have been spreading through farmed poultry and wild birds in Europe and Asia, with nearly 40 countries reporting recent highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreaks. These events have led to large-scale slaughters of poultry in affected countries.
As Metabiota reported in December, agricultural intensification, driven by the growing demand for animal protein, and a more inter-connected supply chain, has increased the potential for pathogens to threaten livestock industries. Moreover, human population growth, climate change, the growth of extractive industries, and changing interactions between humans and animals have altered the dynamics of disease exposure, increasing the risk of viral spillover into human populations.
As a result, the world is seeing more avian influenza viruses that have demonstrated the ability to infect humans. While H7N9 is a relatively mild disease in birds, over 1000 cases have now been reported in humans in China, of which 38.5% were fatal.
The WHO urges governments to remain vigilant in their efforts to detect cases of avian influenza in humans in an effort to identify any early signs that a strain is becoming more transmissible from animals to humans, and subsequently from humans to humans, which may indicate the early phase of a potential pandemic.
Recent outbreaks of African swine fever have resulted in some regions battling both avian influenza and the deadly pig virus in their livestock, resulting in the added challenge of immediate economic losses.
Unfortunately, these recent outbreaks illustrate continued challenges to global epidemic preparedness and the world’s ability to identify and mitigate emerging pathogens.
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