Cases are increasing of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza spreading to mammals. In the last 20 years, over half the people who have caught the virus have died. A leading testing expert is now urging the UK to increase its precautions.
A new report in the British Medical Journal reveals that 53% of humans caught the H5N1 strain of avian influenza since 2003 have died. A leading testing expert says this is why the virus must be taken extremely seriously. In contrast, Covid has a mortality rate of 3.4% and seasonal flu less than 1%.
Dr Quinton Fivelman PhD, chief scientific officer at London Medical Laboratory, says: “We’re becoming used to outbreaks of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, generally known as avian or bird flu, in UK poultry farms. We must not let familiarity mean we become content with this situation. The fact that it is now spreading to mammals across the globe shows we cannot let our guard down against the spread of this virus.”
“Bird flu is spread by close contact with an infected bird (dead or alive). You can’t catch it by eating properly cooked poultry or eggs. However, anyone who works with birds or who finds a sickly bird must be vigilant and take extra precautions.”
“Avian flu was first detected among chickens in Scotland in 1959. In 1997, the first human cases were recorded in Hong Kong and China, where 18 people were infected, and six died. Since 2003, there have been 860 human cases of infection, and 53% of these have died.”
“In the UK, only one case of the H5N1 strain in humans has been recorded. A British man contracted the virus early last year. Duck expert Alan Gosling, who was 79 when he caught it, was believed to have contracted the H5N1 strain of avian flu from his Muscovy ducks. He is one of the 47% who have survived the illness. Previous UK cases were all of the H7 strain of avian influenza.”
“However, the crossover from birds to mammals is increasingly concerning. There is a growing realisation that what was thought to be isolated incidents are becoming more commonplace. This month, the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) reported that the rising number of cases in mammals had caused “morbidity and mortality” in species such as otters and seals. 600 sea lions off the coast of Peru have also died from the virus. In the UK, otters and foxes have been found to have the H5N1 strain.”
“According to the European Centre for Disease Control, around 50m birds, including poultry, have been killed by the virus or culled in this outbreak. However, that hasn’t stopped the WOAH from claiming that the disease is no longer a seasonal problem but one that can occur all year round. Gregorio Torres, head of the science department at WOAH, says: “The seasonality we [used to] observe isn’t there anymore.”
“Additionally, more cases mean a greater chance of mutation. Many scientists believe that’s how the Covid-19 virus spread from animals such as bats to humans. Avian flu may also adapt to more easily pass from person to person.”
From the point of view of a health professional, it’s particularly concerning that there is no bird flu vaccine yet. The seasonal flu vaccine doesn’t protect against bird flu.
Amid growing concern, the Government’s UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has updated its avian influenza guidance. It says: ‘The symptoms of avian influenza in humans vary considerably depending on the strain or subtype of the virus. Most infections are flu-like illnesses (fever, cough, body or muscle pain, sore throat, runny nose). Other symptoms can include conjunctivitis (red, sore and discharging eyes).
Our analysis is that the main symptoms of bird flu can develop very quickly – within three to five days after infection.
- Cough or shortness of breath
- High temperature or feeling hot or shivery
- Aching muscles
Of course, those are worryingly similar symptoms to several other viruses, including Covid-19, that we currently contend with. There are several other early symptoms; however, they are not normally seen in the flu or Covid.
- Stomach pain
- Chest pain
- Bleeding from the nose and gums
Patients may go on to develop more severe complications such as pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome.
In the absence of any effective human avian flu vaccine, a general health test might be a useful course of action for anyone concerned to ensure they are in overall good health to help fight the symptoms of new viruses. For example, London Medical Laboratory’s General Health Profile at-home blood test provides people with a comprehensive check-up of their general health, including diabetes (HbA1c), gout, liver & kidney function, bone health, iron levels and a full cholesterol profile.
Many tests can be taken at home through the post or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer these tests across London and nationwide in over 95 selected pharmacies and health stores. If done in-store, a full blood test can be added to indicate various issues, such as anaemia and leukaemia.