Officials in Russia have recorded the first cases of the notorious H5N8 bird flu strain in humans this week.
Seven workers at the poultry farm have confirmed cases of the virus, after being in close contact with infected birds.
Despite being infected, according to the head of Russia’s consumer health watchdog Anna Popova all seven workers “are now feeling well” and ‘adequate’ measures have been taken to quickly stop the spread.
She continued, “The discovery of these mutations when the virus has not still acquired an ability to transmit from human to human gives us all, the entire world, time to prepare for possible mutations and react in an adequate and timely fashion.”
Ms Popova praised “the important scientific discovery” by Russia’s Vektor laboratory, which had isolated the strain’s genetic material from the infected workers, and said scientists could now start working on developing test systems.
Bird flu outbreaks in the UK
While the H5N8 strain has not been passed to humans in the UK, the country has seen several significant outbreaks within birds over the past year.
In December, an outbreak of H5N8 at a poultry farm in Yorkshire saw 10,000 turkeys culled to prevent a spread. This mass killing prompted the government to enforce that farmers ‘keep [their] birds indoors, or take appropriate steps to keep them separate from wild birds.’
Is bird flu the next pandemic?
Bird flu has not yet been passed from human to human, but scientists are warning that it could soon mutate and become the next global pandemic.
According to Dr Justine Butler, intensive poultry production provides a perfect breeding ground for mutating viruses.
“Chickens are raised in closed, filthy, stressful and crowded industrial facilities with little or no natural light – this is important as UV light harms viruses. We are handing viruses the perfect chance to mutate into more deadly forms – a perfect storm of our own making.”
Other strains of bird flu, such as the H5N1 have already been spread from human to human – albeit rarely – making viruses such as these concerning. In fact, should the H5N1 become more easily transmissible, the WHO has deduced that it could result in the death of up to 150 million people.
Governments across the globe seem to be taking the approach of simply culling infected birds rather than ending factory farming – the breeding ground for these viruses to thrive. We sincerely hope that governments begin to take the threat of bird flu seriously to prevent another Covid-19 situation in the coming years.
To find out more, read our in-depth article on Bird flu: How factory farming is helping spread this killer disease.