Bird flu: Should we be worried about an outbreak?

Although experts have warned of a higher risk of spread to humans, cases like this are extremely rare.

UK officials have confirmed that a person living in England has caught bird flu. The individual may have caught the virus from close contact with a sick or dead bird.

Risk assessment

The individual is well and is currently self-isolating, and all close contacts of the person are being tracked and monitored. Officials said the person may become infected from 'very close, regular contact with a large number of infected birds, which they kept in and around their home over a prolonged period of time.'

Cases like this are hardly ever recorded, with experts saying there is no evidence of onward spread. Avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, is a highly pathogenic virus that spreads among birds.

The UK has recently seen numerous outbreaks and incidents of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza in birds across the country. Fifteen countries in Asia and Europe have recorded high number of cases between October and December, with experts warning there’s a higher risk of this new strain spreading to humans.

Director General of the World Organization for Animal Health, Monique Eloit told Reuters:

This time the situation is more difficult and more risky because we see more variants emerge, which make them harder to follow. Eventually the risk is that it mutates or that it mixes with a human flu virus that can be transmitted between humans then suddenly it takes on a new dimension.

Rare but not impossible

In the case of the UK, this is the first human case of this strain, although there have been cases elsewhere globally. Prof Isabel Oliver, chief scientific officer at the UK Health Security Agency, said:

While the risk of avian flu to the general public is very low, we know that some strains do have the potential to spread to humans, and that's why we have robust systems in place to detect these early and take action.

She added that although human-to-human transmission of bird flu is rare, the situation is being monitored keenly.

Currently there is no evidence that this strain detected in the UK can spread from person to person, but we know that viruses evolve all the time and we continue to monitor the situation closely.
Bird flu: Here's how you can stay safe during an outbreak Bird flu: Here's how you can stay safe during an outbreak