A British expert has warned that a vaccine against bird flu should start developing before the virus starts spreading from person to person.
Professor Ian Brown, head of virology at the Animal and Plant Health Service, said the rapidly evolving virus was increasingly spreading from birds to mammalian species, increasing the threat to humans.
“Any overflow event [to other species] On the scale we’ve seen, the risks have increased,” he said.
“What we’ve learned from COVID is that pandemic preparation takes time to get vaccines, antivirals and treatments.
“We don’t have an H5 vaccine ready to vaccinate people.
“We should start the process.”
His rallying cry echoed earlier warnings from the World Health Organization (WHO) against complacency.
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, say thursday While the risk to humans is currently low, “we cannot assume this will always be the case and we must be prepared for any changes to the status quo”.
Until recently H5N1 The virus mainly infects poultry and migratory birds, including in the UK.
But in the past two years, it has gained a foothold in many wild bird populations and has begun infecting mammals, including farmed mink in Spain, wild seals in Peru, and foxes and otters in the United Kingdom.
“The virus is changing faster than we can characterize it,” said Professor Martin Beer, director of the Institute of Diagnostic Virology at the Friedrich Loeffler Institute in Germany.
Bird flu detected in nine otters and foxes since 2021
Bird flu has spread to mammals — so how worried should humans be?
Professor Brown agrees, warning that while there is no evidence yet of the virus spreading between mammals, it needs to be tracked carefully to monitor the impact of new mutations. “
“It’s a numbers game,” he said. “There has been a step change in the spread of infection.
“We shouldn’t sit idly by because we know what’s happening with COVID.”
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Over the past two decades, 868 people have been infected with H5N1 and 457 of them have died, according to the World Health Organization. So far, no human-to-human transmission has been recorded.
Professor Brown said the groundwork for a vaccine should begin now, but could only be finalized when a particular strain of the virus is known to be circulating in humans.