Like other viruses, scientists have found that the bird flu can travel between different species.
To be sure, no one wants to consider the possibility of another pandemic gaining traction and gripping the globe. While that’s far from a sure thing at this point, the reality is that various strains of diseases are always evolving and mutating, including the one known commonly as the ‘bird flu.’ Formally referred to as H5N1, the bird flu has been doing serious harm to bird populations globally and is now being found in various mammals.
Although it continues to be called the bird flu in conversation, the latest variant of the H5N1 strain has been making its way into more and more types of animals. In the United States, animals such as seals, foxes, skunks, and more, have been tested and found to have the virus. Outside of the U.S., a notable event in Spain saw another mink farm impacted by this form of influenza.
Of course, just because the virus is taking a toll on other species doesn’t mean the birds have been left behind. The death toll among strictly domestic poultry has risen into the hundreds of millions, with countless more birds in the wild that have died without being counted. Outside of the painful environmental toll, consumers have certainly noticed the impact at the grocery store – egg prices have climbed dramatically in response to the loss of so many birds that would have otherwise been sending eggs to the market.
Some might be surprised to learn that it’s not a matter of waiting to see if the bird flu will jump from animals to humans – that’s already happened, just the same as the virus has jumped between animal species and, certainly, between mammals. So far, only a modest number of cases have been found in people, but it’s likely that not all cases were captured through testing. Still others may be missed due to misdiagnosis. It doesn’t yet appear as though the virus is being passed from person to person, and some of the challenges of testing for this strain mean that there can be some room for interpretation within the results.
One element that can put the general public’s mind at ease (at least, somewhat) over this issue is the fact that vaccines already work against this form of influenza, so the human population would not be playing from behind as was the case with the COVID-19 pandemic. It would be far better to avoid the issue entirely and not have the bird flu become a big problem for humans, but even if it does, there will be treatments ready and waiting to deal with the matter.
As the entire world learned when going through the COVID-19 pandemic, there are far more questions than answers in the early stages of such an event. This is the case, of course, too, with the current round of the bird flu that is impacting animal life on a large scale. Scientists simply don’t yet know what would need to happen for this to make a major impact on human life, and whether or not such events are likely or even possible. Only time will tell.