New wave of bird flu has higher risk of human transmission, warn experts

A new wave of bird flu spreading across Europe and Asia has a higher chance of also spreading to humans, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

The OIE, along with governments and the poultry industry, are concerned as this wave of avian influenza has a high number of variants.

Previously, tens of millions of birds have been killed and trade restrictions imposed following bird flu outbreaks, reports The Mirror.

OIE Director General Monique Eloit said: "This time the situation is more difficult and more risky because we see more variants emerge, which make them harder to follow.

"Eventually the risk is that it mutates or that it mixes with a human flu virus that can be transmitted between humans then suddenly it takes on a new dimension."

Outbreaks generally start in the autumn when the infection is spread by migrating wild birds.

15 countries had reported outbreaks of bird flu in poultry between October and the end of December.

These have mostly been the H5N1 strain, one of the few bird flu strains that have passed onto humans.

According to OIE data, Italy was the worst hit in Europe with 285 outbreaks and nearly four million birds culled.

In total around 850 people have been reported to be infected with the strain, of which half died, the OIE said.

Last year several people were infected by the H5N6 strain in China, raising concern among some experts who say a previously circulating strain appears to have mutated and become more infectious to people.

Eloit stressed, however, that most countries had learned to contain outbreaks, meaning that transmissions to humans would be sporadic as bird flu is usually passed through close contact.

She explained: "If there are one, two or three humans infected it is worrying but it is not necessary to cry wolf too quickly about the risks of extension.

"It will depend on how the people have been infected."

Last month it reported the UK was facing its largest-ever outbreak of bird flu.

The Minister for Rural Affairs raised the alarm after warning that a "phenomenal level" of bird flu was present and could have "huge implications" in the run-up to Christmas.

But the risk to human health and food safety from avian influenza remains very low, according to public health advice.

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