Europe recommends increased surveillance of bird flu as infections to mammals and humans increase

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has recommended increased surveillance due to cases of avian influenza, although it has pointed out that the viruses circulate at low levels among wild bird populations around the world. the European Union and the European Economic Area. The recommendation comes on a day when the journal Nature publishes a study by American and Japanese scientists warning of the increased chances of transmission of the virus to mammals and of the “potentially pandemic” nature of bird flu.

“The discovery that H5N1 viruses can acquire the ability to transmit between mammals is a paradigm shift that increases the pandemic potential of these viruses,” the authors of the study conclude in Nature. The current epidemic on US farms, they warn, “may have profound consequences for public health and the livestock industry.”

The European Centre for Disease Control has recalled the cases detected in at least a dozen American states, where the transmission of highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses has recently been observed on dairy farms and four cases of human avian influenza have been reported among agricultural workers exposed to livestock since April 2024. These infected people have developed very mild symptoms, just eye irritation that was resolved with medication.

Although transmission from infected animals to humans “remains a rare event,” avian influenza viruses can spread to wild, farm and domestic animals, “causing infections and outbreaks in poultry and occasionally in mammals,” the Center notes.

“As we continue to closely monitor the current situation with avian influenza, both in the EU and around the world, there is reason for heightened awareness, but not for heightened concern. This threat to human health should not be underestimated, and it is important that we remain vigilant and proactive in our joint work,” said ECDC Director Pamela Rendi-Wagner.

To date, no human infections with the avian influenza A(H5N1) virus have been reported in the EU. However, ECDC warns of the importance of continuing to raise awareness among healthcare professionals, both in primary and secondary care, about the possibility of encountering human cases of infection.

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