In view of the concern that the bird flu virus, which is rampant worldwide, could possibly spread to humans, an expert has emphasized the importance of poultry farming.
The possible adaptation to mammals such as sea lions also deserves a lot of attention, said Timm Harder from the Friedrich Loeffler Institute (FLI) near Greifswald of the German Press Agency. However, poultry farms offer the greatest interfaces with humans. There is always a risk that the virus will jump directly to humans.
Today the World Health Organization (WHO) wanted to inform about the development of the H5N1 virus and the risk for humans in an online event.
Millions of animals have already died
"We must not let up in our activities to keep track of the virus and, above all, to keep infections out of attitudes - small or large," said Harder, who heads the National Reference Laboratory for Avian Influenza at the FLI. The greater the spread of the virus, the more likely it is that it will actually be skipped. Therefore, it must be about reducing infections. "That is the goal of animal disease control."
With wild birds, which are very mobile and different, prevention is much more difficult. "It's a special situation that we actually have worldwide and that hasn't happened before." Bird flu is currently rampant to an unprecedented extent: there is evidence on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Tens of millions of animals have already died, particularly seabirds.
It is known that the circulating H5N1 lineage 220.127.116.11b also infects and kills mammals such as mink, foxes, raccoons, martens and bears. Experts are particularly concerned about the mass deaths of mink from a Spanish farm and seals in different parts of the world.
For both phenomena there is evidence or at least the assumption that the virus spread directly between mammals, said Harder. In this case, a higher risk would also have to be assumed for humans. So far, only one death from 18.104.22.168b has been recorded worldwide: The 38-year-old Chinese woman who died in October had contact with infected poultry.
"Even whales can be affected"
According to Harder, the impact of the virus on biodiversity cannot yet be estimated. South America was also affected for the first time in autumn, where many pelicans died. Penguins have now also been infected here. There is also a danger for the Antarctic penguin colonies. "Even whales can be affected," Harder said. This is shown by evidence from a porpoise in the Baltic Sea last summer.
Harder described the current incidence of infection in Germany as constant, but lower than in previous waves of infection during the cold season. This could be an indication of a partial immunity that has now developed in some birds.
For years, bird flu was rampant in this country in connection with bird migration only seasonally. Recently there have been infections all year round. The FLI is currently registering around 20 to 40 cases in wild birds in Germany per week. "First of all, there is no sign of letting up," said Harder.