'Could adapt to humans': Risk of bird flu pandemic rises monthly, warns expert

'Could adapt to humans': Risk of bird flu pandemic rises monthly, warns expert
Credit: Belga/Nicolas Maeterlinck

Experts are warning of the danger of an unprecedented global outbreak of bird flu, which also poses a threat to humans as the risk of a pandemic is increasing every month.

On Tuesday, 250 dead birds that likely died from bird flu washed up on the beach in the Netherlands, leading to Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans calling the impact of the global outbreak of H5 bird flu among animals "dramatic."

A deadly variant of the bird flu virus also claimed the lives of thousands of seabirds on the British east coast a month ago, and the virus has also been detected in Belgium.

"Bird flu has never caused so many deaths in wild birds, and nearly 100 million birds had to be sacrificed last year to try to contain the epidemic," said Emmanuel André, a medical microbiologist at the UZ Leuven, who underlined that all of this happened against the backdrop of global food insecurity.

Since the start of June, Belgium has been declared bird flu-free again, a few weeks after the obligation to keep poultry on lockdown was lifted. However, according to the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC), caution is still required.

"The virus is still actively circulating in wild bird populations in Europe and the risk of contamination for poultry and bird farms remains real," the FASFC said at the time.

Now, André stressed that the massive circulation of this virus "also puts the human population at risk, because the more the virus circulates, the more likely it is to mutate and adapt to humans," he said.

"And the more the virus circulates, the more likely it is to encounter humans. The risk of a pandemic is therefore increasing month by month," André added. "Food insecurity caused by the current drought and heat (climate change), as well as the conflict in Ukraine may diminish efforts to try to contain this epidemic. The major challenges of our planet are intertwined."

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More than 22 million cases of bird flu have been reported in 68 countries this season, according to World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) data requested by The Telegraph. That is twice as many as between October 2020 and September 2021: 94.2 million poultry have also been culled, which is considerably more than the 54.4 million of last season.

In addition to the health risk, this also leads to higher prices for consumers, which are already under pressure due to rising food insecurity caused by the extreme weather and the war in Ukraine.

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