A Malignant Flu May Soon Evolve to Infect and Kill Humans, Report Says
A mink farm in Spain is the site of concerning research regarding the spread of avian influenza.
Researchers believe the bird flu was transmitted across minks in the farm—a troubling mammal-to-mammal spread.
The outbreak at the mink farm opens a new worry for health researchers.
Last fall, on a mink farm in Spain, H5N1 (avian influenza) likely spread across the animals. The outbreak resulted in the death or culling of the entire group of 50,000 minks.
Why should you care? Because it may have marked the first known case of mammal-to-mammal transmission of the deadly virus known as the bird flu, according to a new study. And that doesn’t portend anything good for humans.
The bird flu has proven scary enough with its occasional spreads from birds to mammals of all sorts, but the study published in Eurosurveillance calls the latest devastation of mink sicknesses and deaths especially concerning. “Our findings also indicate that an onward transmission of the virus to other minks may have taken place in the affected farm,” the study authors write.
That raises the alarm that humans could be next. “This outbreak signals the very real potential for the emergence of mammal-to-mammal transmission,” Michelle Wille, a University of Sydney researcher, tells CBC News.
“It could have deadly consequences,” Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialists, tells CBC News. “This is an infection that has epidemic and pandemic potential. I don’t know if people recognize how big a deal this is.”
Well, that’s comforting.
The H5N1 avian influenza is notorious for a near 100-percent mortality rate in birds. While mammals aren’t catching the virus at the same rate as birds, they aren’t immune to the effects: bird flu has a global WHO mortality rate of greater than 50 percent for humans.
So far, the human infections link to contact with an infected bird, which is why the mammal-to-mammal possibility becomes the troubling part of this entire scenario. If a mammal, such as a mink, can become an intermediary host, the virus can then mutate to pose an even greater risk to other mammals, including humans.
“And so what’s concerning about this,” Louise Moncla, a University of Pennsylvania school of veterinary medicine assistant professor, tells CBC News, “is that this is exactly the kind of scenario you would expect to see that could lead to this type of adaptation, that could allow these viruses to replicate better in other mammals—like us.”
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