Scientists warn about mutations in the bird flu virus: “It has pandemic potential”

Scientists warn about mutations in the bird flu virus: “It has pandemic potential”

2023-06-05 17:48:12

The world is currently facing an unprecedented outbreak of bird flu. The current strain has already killed millions of wild and domestic birds, and while human cases have so far been rare, the rapid spread of the pathogen is cause for concern in the scientific community.

This is clear from a recently published investigation in the scientific journal Nature Communications, in which a group of scientists attached to the WHO trace the genetic and geographic route that has carried the virus from Europe to North America.

High mutation rate

For now, remember, the risk to people is ‘weak’. However, these experts detail that certain experiments have shown that viruses of this clade can cause severe disease in certain species of mammals (such as ferrets or mice), with a high degree of involvement, particularly in the nervous system.

This is especially worrying if we take into account that, as these authors emphasize in their work, the H5N1 avian influenza virus is a group with a high mutation rate and that each time it has been detected in more species of mammals, although the infectivity is low in this class of animals.

For all these reasons, these researchers call for the taking of preventive actions that can avoid not only the ecological and economic damage caused by avian flu outbreaks, but also a possible jump to humans with all that this could imply due to the “pandemic potential” of the virus. The main one consists of the implementation of vaccination campaigns for poultry, a measure that some countries have already begun to put into practice.

Few human cases

Several cases have already been documented throughout the current outbreak of infection in humans; notably, sporadically in Asian countries and recently in the United Kingdom. In most instances, it is people who work with birds and the disease is asymptomatic, with no evidence of transmission from person to person.

However, in other strains avian influenza causes a severe disease in humans with high mortality rates, something illustrated by cases such as the H3N8 flu registered in China, where there is already evidence of at least one death for this reason.

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Kandeil, A., Patton, C., Jones, JC et al. Rapid evolution of A(H5N1) influenza viruses after intercontinental spread to North America. Nature Communications (2023). DOI:

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