Experts voice concern over global bird flu spread and whether lessons have been learned from Covid pandemic

10 February 2023, 19:20

Experts have voiced concern about how far across the globe bird flu is spreading and say the spread of the highly contagious virus should be monitored closely.
Experts have voiced concern about how far across the globe bird flu is spreading and say the spread of the highly contagious virus should be monitored closely. Picture: Getty

By Chris Samuel

Experts have voiced concern about how far across the globe bird flu is spreading and say the spread of the highly contagious virus should be monitored closely.

Avian influenza has been detected as far away as South America and is known to have also killed mammals such as sea lions, mink, foxes and otters.

The virus has brought chaos for farmers who are forced to cull flocks in event of cases to prevent the spread, leading to shortages of various food products including poultry meat and eggs.

It is infecting wild bird populations around the world and there are fears it could potentially infect some species that have never before been in contact with it, with uncertainty about how they would react to the virus.

Professor Ian Brown, head of virology at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), told a virtual Science Media Centre press briefing: "I think it is really quite a worry that the virus has already reached so far down into South America.

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"And we have to consider that there are definitely risks for biodiversity in terms of Antarctica."

A rooster is held in a cage on a farm on January 23, 2023 in Austin, Texas.
A rooster is held in a cage on a farm on January 23, 2023 in Austin, Texas. Picture: Getty

Professor Martin Beer, head of the Institute of Diagnostic Virology at the Friedrich Loeffler Institute in Germany, said: "And this is a point which is also worrying me most at the moment that it's reaching areas where this type of virus has never been.

"And we are talking about a whole continent with a lot of different bird species which never had contact with this kind of virus."

The virus has been found in North and South America, with so far only Africa and Australia being spared.

Eggs are displayed for sale inside a Costco store in Hawthorne, California, on January 26, 2023.
Eggs are displayed for sale inside a Costco store in Hawthorne, California, on January 26, 2023. Picture: Getty

Prof Brown said it's important monitor the spread of bird flu, and mutations in the virus, closely, and learn lessons from the global Covid-19 outbreak.

He added: "Have we got good systems that are globally set up to track and monitor those concerning events fast?

Snow geese take off from a field in Ruthsburg, Maryland, on January 25, 2023.
Snow geese take off from a field in Ruthsburg, Maryland, on January 25, 2023. Picture: Getty

"If this virus was to ever, heaven forbid, jump to humans, we need to have done that basic work in the animal and bird sector.

"So it is about global responsiveness here and working together globally to make sure we can track this virus very fast and understand what it's doing.

"My biggest concern is have we got that global structure... have we learnt all the lessons from Covid?"

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