Bird Flu Is Surging. Dialing Back Its Pandemic Risk Starts with Prevention
The last two years have witnessed an unprecedented global expansion of avian influenza. Moving along migratory bird flyways into Europe and the Americas, a new strain of H5N1 influenza has established itself in wild birds and domestic poultry, leading to a record 58.6 million birds culled in the U.S. and new outbreaks across Latin America and the Caribbean. This strain’s spread in birds, along with infections of mammals and sporadic human cases—one fatal—raises pandemic influenza concerns.
Last October the virus was likely transmitting between farmed mink in Spain and may have spread among sea lions during a mass mortality event in Peru earlier this year. Influenza is highly mutable and prone to dramatic genetic shifts, challenging any prediction of which viral subtype could emerge as a future pandemic. But each such event is another warning of viral churn, the portrait of a mutating pathogen that could yield a virus capable of infecting and transmitting among humans.
This is a numbers game—a game we are losing.
We must seize the opportunity to invest in prevention and…