H5N1 Bird Flu Poses Growing Threat in South America

Sao Paulo, Brazil:

Since 2022, the H5N1 bird flu virus has spread quickly throughout South America's wild birds and marine mammals, raising concerns among experts about possible health risks to humans.

Alarm Is Raised for Mammal-to-Mammal Transmission

The virus, which was previously limited to bird species, may have started to spread among mammals, according to recent evidence. Tens of thousands of seals, sea lions, and birds throughout the region have been impacted, in addition to dolphins in Chile and Peru.

photo: H5N1 virus sample collection

Concerns About Geographic Spread and Mutation

Scientists warn that the virus may mutate even more as a result of habitat changes brought on by climate change, potentially increasing its virulence (affect) and geographic range (spread). This might make it more likely that the disease spreads to other continents, including North America.

photo: CDC study on Avian Flu

Geographic location of mammal species affected by highly pathogenic influenza virus A (H5N1) in previous waves of infection, 2003–2019 (A), and in the current panzootic, 2020–2023 (B).

What is H5N1?

H5N1 is a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus that causes severe respiratory disease in birds, known as bird flu. Although rare, it can cause severe illness and death in humans. The virus spreads easily through saliva, nasal secretions, faeces, and feed. Transmission is difficult but possible, and there is no licenced vaccine for humans. To prevent H5N1 infection, avoid contact with sick birds or their droppings. The best way to prevent H5N1 is to avoid contact with sick birds.

Challenges to Human Health

There have also been reports of human instances; in the previous year, there were 882 cases of bird flu in 23 different countries, with a concerning death rate of 52%. According to a Centres for Disease Control and Prevention report dated March 2024, poultry-to-human infections—which are particularly common in some Asian nations—raise questions regarding the virus's ability to adapt and spread more widely. 
Despite the fact that South America has only recorded two human cases since 2022—both of which were connected to contact with infected birds—the virus's high fatality rate highlights the grave risk that it poses in the event that human-to-human transmission takes place.

photo: Peru 2022 , first case recorded - dead pelicans

Dead pelicans lie on the shore of the river Camana after Peruvian authorities recorded first cases of bird flu in November 2022, in Camana, Peru, 

Reaction and readiness

The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) is bringing together health authorities to form a regional commission tasked with keeping an eye on and managing bird flu outbreaks. The purpose of this initiative is to enhance member country coordination and surveillance.

Problems and Solutions

Inadequate monitoring and documentation impede attempts to precisely gauge the virus's dissemination. To effectively manage the disease response, government agencies must collaborate and follow standardised protocols.

photo:a dead porpoise on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, during an outbreak of Bird Flu

a dead porpoise on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, during an outbreak of Bird Flu in Brazil, November 21, 2023

In summary

The H5N1 bird flu spreading quickly throughout South America emphasises the necessity of taking preventative action to keep the virus under control and safeguard human and wildlife populations. In order to address this expanding public health concern, vigilance, cooperation, and prompt action are essential. 

Media Source:  Reuters 

ⒸCopyright 2024. All Rights Reserved Powered by Vygr Media.