Jan 26, 2017, 5:46 PM ET

Avian Flu Outbreaks Raise Concerns About Possible Pandemic

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An avian flu outbreak in the U.K. is just the latest to erupt across the globe, worrying health experts about the possibility that the virus could become more widespread.

Today U.K. officials confirmed a fifth area in the country has been hit with the H5N8 strain of the avian flu, since December. The strain has been spread from wild birds to farmed poultry, but has yet to affect humans, according to the U.K. Department of the Environment.

There have been more than 40 countries reporting outbreaks of different strains of the avian flu since last November, according to World Health Organization officials.

With the new avian flu outbreaks popping up in recent months, health experts have been increasingly concerned that one or more of the various strains of avian flu could mutate, increasing the risk of a dangerous new flu that could spread quickly across the globe. Normally the virus spreads among birds, often transmitted long distances by wild birds that migrate. In rare cases people in close contact to the birds become ill and the virus rarely spreads from person to person.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said the public health community is increasingly concerned that the virus could potentially mutate.

"The concern always is that they could pick up a gene that permits that kind of flu to spread readily from person to person," Schaffner said. Currently "bird flu by itself cannot do that."

However, Schaffner said in recent years the medical community has developed better surveillance technology to find new outbreaks more easily.

"We detect more of the outbreaks and characterize them even more precisely than 10 years ago," he explained.

On Monday, World Health Organization said they were on "high alert" due to the avian flu outbreaks and the possibility of mutation.

During an address to the WHO executive board on Monday, WHO Director Margaret Chan explained one form of the virus first detected in humans in 2015 was created "by gene-swapping among four different viruses." She urged all countries to closely watch for avian flu cases in both birds and humans to stop any new easily transmitted strain of the virus from spreading.

"We cannot afford to miss the early signals," Chan said.

Multiple strains of the avian flu have spread through a diverse range of countries in recent months including Algeria, Finland, China and the United Kingdom, according to the World Organization for Animal Health. While the avian flu rarely affects people, it can have devastating consequences when it does. In China the mortality rate has hovered around 38 percent for the more than 1,000 people infected with a strain of avian flu since 2013, according to Chan.

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  • Amanda Louise Amacher

    Well there goes the price of chicken. Stop overcrowding on farms. The price of no food should be as high as it is. All these diseases from altering dna/genetics to make them bigger faster, as well as cramming in as many as you can into a tiny shelter is not good for them, and not good for us, the consumer. I love my vegies, but can't do without a good steak or burger once or twice a week. I remember when e used to only buy chicken and ground beef, because it was super cheap, and at least the chicken was healthy. It costs twice as much now, and if you want to get "hormone free" you can expect to pay out you rear for it.

  • voter

    Can I tell all Americans a secret which the liberal media like ABC doesn't want you to know? In November 2016 the Department of Health and Human Services had run out of the $1.2 billion allocated for the fiscal year to house recently arrived illegal immigrants. They needed $167 million in funding to cover the next month of housing illegals. They "found" that money by cutting programs that benefit our neediest and most vulnerable citizens. Here are some of the cuts. Notice that they took money away from the National Institutes of Health and the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund... these are the government research arms that protect us from pandemic flu epidemics! Open borders is costing us far more than most americans realize especially if we have a pandemic that was missed due to lack of research funding...

    $14 million from the Health Resources and Services Administration, including $4.5 million from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and $2 million from the Maternal and Child Health program;
    $14 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for contagious disease prevention and treatment and other critical public health programs;
    $72 million from the National Institutes of Health, for research on cancer, diabetes, drug abuse, mental health, infectious diseases and much more;
    $8 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, for treatment and prevention programs;
    $8 million from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services;
    $39 million from the Children and Families Services Program;
    $4 million from the Aging and Disability Services Programs;
    $3 million from the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, including more than $1 million from the Pandemic Influenza and BioShield Fund.

  • empirewacksback

    Build a wall around Britain and China. Well, finish the one around China.

  • Marcia S

    Birds are NOT meant to live in filthy crowded conditions which is exactly the way they are kept,When they are stressed ,as factory farmed birds are,disease breaks out They don't even get fresh air or sunshine! stupid gluttonous humans....idiots As usual the animals live in a hellhole then are brutally slaughtered...all for fat human to engorge themselves