It is often said, one pandemic leads to another, unfortunately, but what two Chinese scientists, Weifeng Shi and George Fu Gao have speculated that could happen soon is truly worrying.
However, the two in the prestigious journal Science argued that, after the Coronavirus, we should expect another pandemic caused by the well-known avian influenza virus encoded as H5N8 and above all by its variants.
The pathogen is not new and has been circulating in Europe for over six years, affecting millions of wild birds and chickens.
In February of this year, Russia had already warned, contrary to what China had done for Covid-19, that the virus had infected humans for the first time. In the specific case of the workers employed on a “exhibition” farm of nearly one million hens in Astrakhan. Positive that no one had shown symptoms.
The two Chinese seemed much less optimistic “The worldwide spread of H5N8 avian viruses is a public health problem that could cause dramatic pandemics around the world.”
The two are not exactly strangers: George Fu Gao is the general director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Weifeng Shi is the director of the Infectious Diseases Laboratory at Shandong universities. Together they also worked on Covid-19.
As many as 46 countries in Asia, Africa and Europe have reported avian outbreaks in birds, an early variant of H5N8 has forced the culling of over 20 million chickens in South Korea and Japan.
“We must not underestimate the problem” say the two scientists, even if some European veterinary colleagues recall how the European agency ECDC had already considered the risk rather low both for workers in the poultry sector and for the general population.
Influenza viruses, like Coronavirus, have two proteins on their surface, hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N), with different numbered subtypes, hence the name H5N8.
These types of viruses, many virologists note, pass from time to time from birds to people.
H5N1 caused hundreds of human cases, many of them fatal, in Hong Kong in 1997. Fortunately for us humans, the transition from animals is not so common but the real risk is that of variants that could really create the conditions for a new pandemic. In fact, according to many virologists,
The mutational ability of the influenza virus is strong and has the potential to generate a much worse pandemic than the one we are suffering now but this could happen next month or 100 years from now. In any case, humanity really seems to have to deal more and more with problems that until last year seemed to be only events told in the history books.