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Bird Flu ‘H5N’ Cases Increase to 92 in 12 Countries – WHO

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has revealed that the number of dairy herds affected by the avian influenza virus has almost tripled to 92 in 12 countries.

The Director-General of WHO, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, said this on Wednesday during an online media conference.

He also said the number of people being monitored has more than doubled to 500, while human cases had increased from one to three.

According to Ghebreyesus, since 2003, there have been 893 reported infections of H5N1 in humans, including 11 so far in 2024, five in Cambodia, three in the U.S., and one each in Australia, China and Vietnam.

He explained that at the time, the virus had not shown signs of having acquired the ability to spread easily among humans.

“That remains the case, which is why, at this time, WHO continues to assess the risk to public health as low.

“In recent years, H5N1 has spread widely among wild birds, poultry, land and marine mammals on several continents,” he said.

Ghebreyesus said that the WHO recommended that anyone working with any infected animals, in any country, should have access to, and use, personal protective equipment.

He added, “Follow-up, testing and care of people exposed to the virus should continue systematically.

“Early medical care and support, and thorough and timely investigation of every human infection is essential to evaluate and interrupt potential onward transmission between humans.”

According to him, WHO is monitoring multiple avian flu viruses in humans through the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System.

He said surveillance of flu viruses among animals globally must also be intensified to rapidly detect any changes to the virus that could pose a greater threat to humans.

“These systems are only as good as the timely detection and the sharing of viruses and information.

“Collaboration, communication and information sharing between the animal and human health sectors is essential in all countries. This is the meaning of One Health,” the WHO DG said.

Ghebreyesus, during the initial outbreak, noted that based on the available information, WHO will continue to assess the public health risk posed by H5N1 avian influenza as low-to-moderate for people exposed to infected animals.

He added that the agency has a system for monitoring influenza globally through a network of centres in 130 countries, seven collaborating centres and 12 reference laboratories with the capacities and biosafety requirements to deal with H5 viruses.

“We also have the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework to support the rapid development and equitable distribution of vaccines in case of an influenza pandemic,” he stated.