WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW!
- UK officials are reviewing the risk of bird flu transmission to humans every week.
- The UK government is considering vaccinating the country’s poultry flock against bird flu in an effort to prevent it from becoming a pandemic in humans.
- The situation is “totally unprecedented,” with more than 330 outbreaks of bird flu in UK poultry farms since October 2021, leading to the deaths or culling of millions of birds.
The UK government is reviewing the risk of bird flu transmission to humans on a weekly basis, with officials considering vaccinating the country’s poultry flock against the virus. The move comes as the global outbreak of bird flu shows no signs of abating, with concerns that it could evolve to transmit between mammals.
Experts are worried about the spread of the virus into Central and South America, which puts at risk critically endangered species such as unique birds in the Galapagos Islands and penguins in Antarctica. In addition, a cluster of human cases in Cambodia, which led to the death of an 11-year-old girl, has raised alarm.
Professor Ian Brown, who is leading the UK’s fight against bird flu, revealed that a technical group of experts and senior officials from the UK Health Security Agency, the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), and academia is reviewing the risk from bird flu to humans on a weekly basis.
The threat is currently at Level 3, meaning there are changes in the virus genome that could lead to mammal-to-mammal transmission. Evidence of mammal-to-mammal transmission would move the risk up to Level 4. In this scenario, there would be concerns about potential human transmission, which would be classified as Level 5.
The UK is actively reviewing all of its plans for mitigation and prevention of avian influenza, including the possibility of vaccinating tens of millions of birds. However, scientists are wary of vaccinating poultry as it can still allow the virus to transmit within flocks of healthy birds. Despite this, some sectors in Europe have been badly hit by the outbreak, with the French foie gras industry being massively affected over successive years, to the point where it has been brought to its knees.
There have been more than 330 outbreaks of bird flu in UK poultry farms since October 2021, leading to the deaths from disease or culling of millions of birds. The situation is described by Professor Brown as “totally unprecedented”.
European countries are likely to decide whether to vaccinate by the end of this month based on the best available science. However, Prof Brown warned that vaccination would not be a “simple fix” as it would be costly and biosecurity measures would still need to be in place. Safeguards would also be put in place to protect consumers about what meat is allowed to enter the food chain.