Bird flu now sweeping the world evolved in Europe and Africa

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Chicken in South Africa

A rooster on sale in a market in South Africa – considered one of many international locations the place chook flu is killing wild and home birds

Kim Ludbrook/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The virus behind the largest-ever chook flu outbreak originated in Europe and Africa, suggesting that the epicentre of chook flu viruses has shifted away from Asia and onto different continents.

Since 2021, a subtype of the chook flu virus known as H5N1 has contaminated and killed a report variety of each home and wild birds throughout the globe. H5N1 was first detected in China in 1996 and largely stayed in South-East Asia till 2005. That 12 months, outbreaks occurred in birds throughout Africa, the Center East and Europe. The H5N1 virus later re-emerged in 2021, affecting birds in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. It has additionally unfold to some mammals, together with a number of people.

“One thing is completely different in regards to the mid-2020 and onward viruses than something we’ve seen since that 1996 detection,” says Richard Webby at St. Jude Youngsters’s Analysis Hospital in Tennessee. “So simply an enormous quantity of virus in wild birds, like nothing we’ve seen earlier than.”

To grasp the latest unfold of H5N1, Webby and his colleagues analysed chook flu outbreaks that occurred between 2005 and 2022. They collected knowledge on the quantity and placement of confirmed chook flu instances worldwide from the Meals and Agriculture Group of the United Nations and the World Organisation for Animal Well being. Additionally they obtained genetic info on chook flu viruses utilizing two public databases.

After analyzing the genetic knowledge, the group traced the H5N1 virus chargeable for the 2021 outbreaks and onward to a different subtype of the chook flu virus, named H5N8, which originated in Northern Africa. This virus started circulating in wild European birds in 2019, the place it subsequently advanced into the present H5N1 virus. That virus then unfold by way of wild European birds for not less than a 12 months earlier than inflicting widespread outbreaks in home and wild birds in lots of extra international locations in 2021.

“That indicators a serious change for this explicit virus,” says Webby. “The epicentre of H5 evolution, which has been South-East Asia, is definitely now altering.”

This implies that different international locations ought to enhance chook flu surveillance efforts, particularly these in Africa, the place such infrastructure is missing, he says.

Cautious vigilance is crucial for understanding which chook flu viruses are circulating and the way they’re evolving or migrating, says Seema Lakdawala at Emory College in Georgia. This info can information vaccine improvement and efforts to curb chook flu transmission. “By understanding what’s on the market, we will put together ourselves,” says Lakdawala.

Fowl flu can not but transmit between folks. People contract it solely by interacting with an contaminated animal. Elevated surveillance is thus crucial for warning folks in affected areas about contact with birds and different animals which may be sick with chook flu, like seals, foxes and bears. Every human an infection provides the virus a chance to evolve mutations that might assist it unfold in folks. “If we will determine locations of spillover and cut back spillover in people, we will cut back the potential for a pandemic emergency,” says Lakdawala.


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