The World Health Organization says that the H5N1 bird flu is still a pandemic threat. Over the last year, the virus has spread and evolved to infect not just poultry, but mammals as well.
Over the last year, there have been more outbreaks of bird flu on farms than ever before. The virus is said to be killing chickens, ducks, and turkeys. Over 140 million poultry have died worldwide from the disease or related culling since October 2021, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health. The ruling class has not differentiated between the birds that died of the bird flu as opposed to those they culled, or killed because they might have been exposed to it.
“We used to think that five outbreaks in a season was bad, but hundreds of UK farms have gone down with bird flu in the last twelve months,” says Professor James Wood, Head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge. “It kills farmed birds really fast – they’re usually dead within 24 hours of showing signs of infection, and we’re seeing mass mortality events,” he adds.
There isn’t just one strain of bird flu. This latest strain is unusually fatal in a wide range of bird species and unusually transmissible between bird species.
“Disease on this scale in wild birds in Europe has never been seen before,” says Wood. “It’s been absolutely devastating,” he adds, “pushing some species to the brink of extinction. Gannets, terns, and cranes have all died in huge numbers. Lindisfarne, for example, was recently closed to the public because of the amount of wild bird disease on the island.”
“Poultry farmers need to make sure their birds don’t come into contact with wild birds, by using netting or keeping them indoors. They can try and keep wild birds away with bird scarers, and not having ponds to attract them,” he says. “They also need to stop wild bird feces being transferred in – by cleaning boots, or putting on new ones every time they go into a poultry shed.”
But scientists continue to tell the media that bird flu isn’t adapting to humans, and that the risk of it doing so is still low.
“When you look at the scale of the latest bird flu epidemic on European farms, I think it’s remarkable how few human cases there have been,” says Wood. “I’d argue that this strain is not well adapted for transmitting into humans because people working on poultry farms are exposed to bird flu all the time.”
However, a variant of bird flu more closely related to the one that killed humans in Hong Kong is still circulating in Cambodia and the Far East. There’s also concern about the variant transmitting in Europe and the Americas because it has jumped, or “spilled over”, into various other animal species. Several cases have been seen in foxes – which eat dead birds, and there have been outbreaks in seals and sea lions in Peru and on mink farms in Spain.
The rulers are continuing to keep the bird flu narrative alive, although it does appear to fizzling out, at least for now.