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Scientists: Bird Flu Could Be Far Deadlier Than Covid, With 50% Mortality Rate

By Matthias Dathan
April 4, 2024

Amid growing concerns among global health experts, the H5N1 bird flu strain is now seen as a potential trigger for a pandemic that could dwarf the devastation caused by COVID-19.

The White House is vigilantly observing developments as the H5N1 bird flu shows signs of infecting mammals, including humans, raising fears of a mutation that could facilitate human-to-human transmission, as the Daily Mail reports.

Historically, bird flu has been a concern primarily for avian species, but recent developments have shifted the focus towards its impact on mammals, including humans. The discovery of H5N1 infections in mammals such as cows, cats, and even humans has prompted urgent research into the virus’s ability to mutate and become more easily transmissible among people.

The Emergence of H5N1 as a Potential Pandemic Threat

Dr. Suresh Kuchipudi, a renowned virus researcher, has indicated that the H5N1 strain has long been considered a top candidate for causing a global pandemic. His concern is based on the virus's recent mutations and its proven ability to infect a broad range of mammals.

This concern was further echoed by John Fulton, who highlighted the unprecedented threat posed by H5N1, noting its potential to be "100 times worse than Covid" if it mutates while retaining its high fatality rate. Such a mutation could lead to widespread fatalities, given the virus’s current fatality rate of approximately 50% in human cases.

Despite these alarming projections, some experts urge caution and recommend a measured approach to the situation. They point out the significant gaps in current knowledge about H5N1 and emphasize the need for further research to fully understand the virus’s transmission dynamics and mutation potential.

The First Human Case and Its Implications

A significant development in the unfolding situation was the diagnosis of a dairy farm worker in Texas with H5N1. This case, coupled with infections reported in cows across six states and in cats in Texas, has heightened concerns about the virus's capacity for human infection.

Notably, the virus identified in the patient showed mutations that facilitate easier spread among mammals, although there is currently no evidence of human-to-human transmission. This has led to increased scrutiny of the virus by researchers, medical professionals, and government officials alike.

Experts like Dr. Gabriel Girouard have highlighted the dire implications of H5N1's high fatality rate in humans, stressing the urgent need for preparedness should the virus begin to spread more widely among the human population.

Assessing the Pandemic Potential of H5N1

For H5N1 to pose a pandemic threat, it must achieve efficient human-to-human transmission. Researchers are closely monitoring its behavior in mammals, especially in those with similar lung receptors to humans, like pigs, though no infections have been reported in these animals yet.

The World Health Organization has placed the fatality rate of H5N1 at a staggering 52% since 2003, with a nearly 30% death rate for cases since 2020. These statistics underline the virus's deadly potential, albeit in a limited number of human cases so far.

While some experts, including David Swayne and Dr. Francois Balloux, call for calm, noting the importance of a rational and informed approach to the virus, the global health community remains on high alert. The absence of current human-to-human transmission offers a glimmer of hope that the worst-case scenario can be avoided.

Implications for Agriculture and Public Health

The agricultural sector is already feeling the effects of the H5N1 outbreaks, with 12 farms across six states reporting infections in cows. These animals have shown symptoms of the virus, though, remarkably, they have not been dying from it.

This situation has led to concerns about the safety of milk and egg consumption, and restrictions on selling products from infected animals could impact prices. Furthermore, the mechanism of cow infections remains a mystery, adding another layer of complexity to the challenge of controlling the virus's spread.

The rapid spread of bird flu, driven by gene mixing between wild and domestic strains of the virus, has been a concern for years. The first mammal cases reported in 2021 marked a significant turning point in the understanding of H5N1’s potential impact beyond avian species.

Looking Towards the Future with Caution and Preparedness

In conclusion, the emergence of the H5N1 strain of bird flu as a potential pandemic threat has galvanized the global health community into action. With the White House closely monitoring the situation and experts around the world expressing both concern and caution, the focus is on understanding and mitigating the virus's impact.

The potential for H5N1 to mutate and become more easily transmissible among humans, while maintaining a high fatality rate, presents a scenario that could indeed be "100 times worse than Covid," as some have warned. However, the emphasis remains on prepared research, surveillance, and response efforts to prevent such an outcome.

As the world watches and waits, the collective hope is that with rigorous science and coordinated action, humanity can avert a crisis on the scale of, or worse than, the COVID-19 pandemic.