Top virologists fear new ‘worrisome’ bird flu pandemic – symptoms

Back in October, a breakout of bird flu was detected in farmed minks in Galicia, northwest Spain. On Thursday, January 19, 2023, an analysis on the viral eruption, H5N1, was published in the infectious disease journal Eurosurveillance. The report noted: “A single mink farm hosting more than 50,000 minks was involved.

“The identified viruses belong to clade, which is responsible of the ongoing epizootic in Europe.

“An uncommon mutation (T271A) in the PB2 gene with potential public health implications was found.”

The bird flu virus, H5N1, has “caused concern” since 1997, notes the NHS.

Historically, H5N1 doesn’t infect people easily, but there have been several cases of people being infected by the virus and it has led to a “number of deaths”.

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The national health service adds: “H5N1 bird flu have been found in some poultry, other captive birds and wild birds in the UK.”

Professor Francois Balloux commented on the most recent upsurge of cases in the mink farm.

The infectious disease expert, based at University College London, said: “The sequenced genomes carry several rare or previously unreported mutations, likely acquired after mink-to-mink transmission.

“Avian [bird] flu H5N1 can infect a range of carnivores and also sometimes humans.

“Small clusters in humans have been reported but human-to-human transmission remains ineffective.”

Professor Balloux added: “Such outbreaks of avian flu in mink farms are highly suboptimal as they create natural ‘passaging experiments’ in a mammalian host, which could lead the virus to evolve higher transmissibility in mammals.”

How does bird flu spread to humans?

The NHS clarifies: “Bird flu is spread by close contact with an infected bird (dead or alive).”

Close contacts includes touching the infected bird, its droppings or bedding, or killing or preparing infected poultry for cooking.

Symptoms of bird flu in humans

The main symptoms of bird flu can appear very quickly and includes:

  • A very high temperature or feeling hot or shivery
  • Aching muscles
  • Headache
  • A cough or shortness of breath
  • Diarrhoea
  • Sickness
  • Stomach pain
  • Chest pain
  • Bleeding from the nose and gums
  • Conjunctivitis.

It usually takes three to five days for the first symptoms to appear after you’ve been infected.

More severe complications can occur, such as pneumonia and acute respiratory distress.

People who suspect they could be infected by bird flu are encouraged to call NHS 111.

Tests can be done to confirm bird flu, and treatment might involve an antiviral medicine, such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza).

Dr Jeremy Ratcliff, based at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, said there is no need to panic as the outbreak ended months ago, as reported by the Daily Mail.

“However, [as] H5N1 can successfully adapt to mammal-mammal transmission [it] is worrisome in general,” he said.

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