WHO on Bird Flu: Its transmission to humans is a source of 'great concern'

Scientists are concerned that the virus will adapt and be able to spread from person to person

h5n1 bird flu, WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) today expressed "grave concern" about the increasing spread of the H5N1 strain of bird flu to other species, including humans.

"It remains, I think, (a cause of) enormous concern," WHO chief scientist Jeremy Farrar said during a news conference from Geneva.

The fear is that the H5N1 virus, which has had an "extremely high fatality rate" in people infected after contact with sick animals, will adapt and be able to spread from person to person.

There is currently no evidence that H5N1 has been transmitted from person to person.

889 cases and 463 deaths have been recorded

From the beginning of 2023 to April 1, 2024, the WHO announced that it recorded in 23 countries a total of 889 cases of bird flu in humans and 463 deaths, i.e. a mortality rate of 52%.

Beyond tracking people infected by animals — cows in one recent case in the U.S. — "it's even more important to understand how many infections there are in people without knowing it, because that's how the adaptation" of the virus will happen, he explained. Farrar.

"It's tragic to say this, but if I get infected with H5N1 and die, that's the end of it," he said, breaking the chain of transmission. "If I go around the community and transmit the virus to another person, I start a new cycle," he stressed.

In early April, US authorities announced that a man had tested positive for bird flu after being infected by a cow in Texas.

At present, cases of transmission of the virus to humans are very rare.

A nine-year-old child carrying the H5N1 strain died of bird flu in Cambodia in February, while three other deaths from the same disease were recorded in the country in 2023.

In the US, the patient had "red eyes as the only symptom", authorities said, adding that he was placed in isolation and given an antiviral drug used for the flu.

Source: protothema.gr