April 1, 2023 1:39 am

Avian flu surveillance is becoming ramped up in the UK just after the detection of at least 200 instances of infection in mammals.

Public overall health professionals say the danger of a jump to humans is nonetheless pretty low, but that this danger would be monitored by means of enhanced genomic surveillance and targeted testing of individuals who had been exposed to the virus. Concern was also sparked by a current outbreak of avian flu at a mink farm in Spain and a mass mortality of seals in the Caspian sea that is possibly linked to the infection.

“The virus is completely on the march,” Prof Ian Brown, the director of scientific solutions at the Animal and Plant Wellness Agency (Apha), told the BBC.

He added that professionals had been “acutely conscious of the risks” of avian flu becoming a pandemic like Covid. “This international spread is a concern,” he mentioned. “We do have to have globally to appear at new methods, these international partnerships, to get on major of this illness.”

More than the final two years, the UK has faced its biggest outbreak of avian influenza, with additional than 300 instances confirmed due to the fact October 2021 and with poultry farms all at present needed to residence birds indoors.

Figures reported by the BBC show the virus has led to the deaths of about 208 million birds about the globe and at least 200 recorded instances in mammals. In the UK, Apha has tested 66 mammals, which includes seals, and located nine otters and foxes had been optimistic for very pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1.

Such instances have been located in Durham, Cheshire and Cornwall in England Powys in Wales Shetland, the Inner Hebrides and Fife, Scotland. It is believed the animals had fed on dead or sick wild birds infected with the virus.

“The species impacted – foxes and otters – are recognized to scavenge,” mentioned Dr Alastair Ward, of the University of Leeds. “In all likelihood, the impacted people will have scavenged infected wild bird carcasses, which might have had pretty higher viral loads. Such higher exposure is most likely to have overwhelmed the mammal’s immune technique, resulting in infection.”

There is at present no explanation to suspect that the jump is due to a adjust in the virus’s genetic makeup or that the danger to humans is higher from infected foxes or otters than from birds. Even so, scientists think close monitoring is needed to detect any mutations that could make a leap amongst species additional most likely. And reports of the apparent spread of the virus amongst mammals on a mink farm and the possibility of an outbreak in the wild seal population have heightened concern.

Prof Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading, mentioned: “While these continuous incursions of the virus into mammalian species does deliver an chance for the virus to adapt to mammalian transmission, the organic barriers to this occurring are pretty higher and there is no indication of spread inside these species. The danger to individuals proper now consequently seems no additional than it is for direct spread from infected birds.”

In a current report, the UK Wellness Safety Agency (UKHSA) warned that the “rapid and constant acquisition of the mutation in mammals might imply this virus has a propensity to lead to zoonotic infections”, which means it could jump to humans.

The agency also raised issues about restricted wild bird and mammal surveillance and genomic information collection in England, and warned that there was not sufficient testing of individuals who had been speak to with infected birds.

According to the Planet Wellness Organization (WHO) there have been pretty much 870 instances of human infection in the previous 20 years and of these, 457 instances had been fatal.

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