According to a joint statement released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), ongoing avian influenza outbreaks in animals are causing worry about potential hazards to humans. Despite the fact that the outbreaks have mainly harmed animals, such as poultry, wild birds, and some mammals, the growing incidence of H5N1 avian influenza detections among mammals increases the risk that the virus may evolve to infect people more readily.
Since 1996, outbreaks of the H5N1 avian influenza virus, specifically the goose/Guangdong-lineage, have affected birds. Since 2020, an H5 clade 22.214.171.124b form of these viruses has caused an extraordinary amount of wild bird and poultry mortality across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Over 131 million domestic chickens died as a result of H5N1 outbreaks in 2022, which were reported in 67 countries among domestic and wild birds. Another 14 nations, mostly in the Americas, have reported outbreaks in 2023.
According to recent studies, mammals, including as farmed mink, seals, sea lions, cats, and dogs, are also being affected by avian influenza epidemics. The H5N1 viruses have impacted at least 26 species. Concern has been expressed around the world due to this change in the avian influenza epidemiology and the rise in incidence among mammals. Being that mammals are biologically more similar to humans than birds, there is a substantial possibility of virus adaption and transmission to humans.
Although there have been isolated reports of human infections with the influenza A(H5N1) virus, the danger of transmission from person to person is still minimal. The majority of the cases that have been found thus far have been connected to close contact with diseased birds and contaminated settings. FAO, WHO, and WOAH, the three partners in the tripartite partnership, highlight the significance of maintaining watchfulness and monitoring for any changes in the virus that can increase its capacity to spread among humans.
The FAO, WHO, and WOAH advised nations to take a number of steps to address the current outbreaks and reduce the dangers. Enhancing influenza surveillance in both humans and animals, implementing enhanced biosecurity measures to stop avian influenza at its source, quickly identifying and responding to animal outbreaks, conducting epidemiological and virological investigations, and encouraging cooperation between the human and animal health sectors are a few of these.