Bird Flu Sample Shows Mammal Adaptation Signs: But Risk Still Low

Dylan Turck
Samples of Bird Flu have shown genetic mutations that would allow the virus to spread between mammals but scientists believe that the evidence is not enough to prove that the virus is capable of transmitting between humans.
A scientist examines samples of the Influenza Virus. Photo: CDC | Unsplash
A scientist examines samples of the Influenza Virus. Photo: CDC | Unsplash

Last month a man in Chile who fell ill was diagnosed with Bird Flu. On closer inspection, scientists noticed it contained two key genetic mutations that would aid the virus’s adaption to mammals. The genes that were mutated give the virus the ability to replicate and multiply in mammalian cells.

Scientists have also stated that the virus adapting to live in mammals does not make it a considerable threat to humans since it cannot transmit from person to person. Doctors are not sure how the man contracted the virus, but local reports have shown an increased rate of Bird Flu in wild birds and sea lions in the area.

Chilean officials have reported the case to the World Health Organization (WHO) and handed over all the samples and research they have conducted. Currently, Scientists at the WHO and other scientific organizations are working to sequence the genome to learn more about the mutation.

What Is Bird Flu And Where Does It Come From?

Bird Flu, scientifically known as Avian Influenza, is a contagious disease that infects birds. The virus can spread through wild and domesticated birds, with the main risk to humans being poultry, i.e., chickens.

A non-commercial free-range chicken farm. Photo: Kirsten Bühne | Pexels

Bird Flu spreads from wild birds to domesticated birds, where it continues to infect the whole flock. After a bird is infected, the virus can be transmitted to humans if they come in contact with their feathers or droppings.

Cases of humans infecting other humans with the virus are rare and generally only occur when someone is caring for another person with the virus. In total, 130 people have died after contracting Bird Flu since 2003.

The majority of Bird Flu cases have been reported in Asia with a variant of Avian Influenza, named H5N1, causing widespread epidemics in China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Turkey, Egypt, and Iraq.

There have been numerous cases of H5N1 outbreaks in Australia, but the country has strict regulations and procedures in place that were able to contain the disease before it was able to spread around the country.

In recent years America has also found Bird Flu present in its livestock, with the country now experiencing the largest epidemic of the virus in history. Since late 2021 the USA has had to quarantine, contain, and kill millions of farm-raised chickens, ducks, turkeys, and geese as well as needing to cull thousands of wild birds.

Could Bird Flu Become The Next Pandemic

A map, detailing the spread of a virus. Photo: Markus Spiske | Pexels

Scientists in the field have stated that it’s unlikely that Bird Flu would become increasingly transmissive among humans. Although there have been cases of the virus mutating to infect other mammals, the virus would need to undergo several more mutations for it to be effective at infecting larger populations.

The biggest fear that scientists have now is if the virus has more chances to infect humans and other mammals, it increases the probability that it will be able to mutate and learn how to overcome our immune systems.

Another worry is that if Avian Influenza had to merge with the influenza virus present in humans, the produced virus could be highly infective to humans and our bodies would not know how to fight back.

Luckily, since the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1919, many countries have created plans and research institutions to combat all forms of the influenza virus.

In addition to this, many of the medications humans have developed to fight Influenza are also effective against Bird Flu and a vaccine is in development that could stop the spread of this virus altogether.


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