Scientists Warn of Avian Flu Threat Spreading to Humans

Scientists Warn of Avian Flu Threat Spreading to Humans

Scientists are sounding the alarm over the potential threat of the avian flu, warning that the virus, which has now adapted to infect marine mammals, could pose a risk to humans. Known as H5N1, the avian influenza has been circulating among birds for decades but has recently made a deadly leap to marine mammals, causing significant mortality among species like elephant seals.

According to experts, the avian flu has claimed the lives of almost 20,000 elephant seals on the coast of western Argentina, marking a troubling expansion of its reach beyond birds. Valeria Falabella, Marine Conservation Director at WCS Argentina, described the situation as "apocalyptic," highlighting the unprecedented scale of mortality among marine wildlife.

Dr. Chris Walzer, Executive Director of Health at the Wildlife Conservation Society, emphasized the need for heightened monitoring of viruses in animals to track the spread of the avian flu. He stressed that waiting for the virus to reach human populations is not an option and called for proactive measures to understand its impact on wildlife populations.

The avian flu outbreak has raised concerns not only about its impact on wildlife but also about the potential for transmission to humans. While the current risk to humans is deemed low, experts warn that the virus is mutating rapidly, necessitating close monitoring to detect any new traits that could pose a threat to human health.

Since 2022, the avian flu has caused significant mortality among wild birds and mammals in Argentina, Chile, and Peru. The virus has been responsible for the deaths of at least 600,000 wild birds and 50,000 mammals in these regions alone, according to reports from The New York Times.

In Argentina, the avian flu outbreak has had devastating consequences for marine mammals, with an estimated 18,000 seals killed by the virus last year alone. Alarmingly, over 95 percent of the seals born in the country in 2023 did not survive, underscoring the severity of the situation.

Research has revealed nearly identical samples of the avian flu virus in four sea lions and a seal, indicating its ability to infect a range of marine mammal species. This cross-species transmission raises concerns about the potential for further spread and underscores the need for comprehensive monitoring and surveillance efforts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued warnings for individuals who work closely with birds, advising them to take precautions to reduce the risk of avian flu transmission. This precautionary measure aims to protect workers who may be at higher risk of exposure to the virus due to their occupation.

While the avian flu remains primarily a threat to wildlife, its ability to infect marine mammals raises concerns about its potential to jump to humans. Experts emphasize the importance of proactive surveillance and monitoring to detect any changes in the virus that could increase its risk to human health.

In conclusion, the avian flu poses a significant threat not only to wildlife but also potentially to human populations. As the virus continues to evolve and adapt, it is essential to remain vigilant and proactive in monitoring its spread and assessing its impact on both animal and human health. By taking proactive measures to understand and mitigate the risks posed by the avian flu, we can better protect both wildlife and human populations from its devastating effects.

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