THE world should prepare in case bird flu jumps to humans, the World Health Organization claims.
Fears have risen in recent weeks about the viruses spread in mammals, including otters and foxes in Britain.
Cases of the virus in birds are at record levels worldwide and some experts are concerned transmission in other animals could make it more likely to infect humans.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus yesterday told a virtual briefing that while the current dangers are low, the spillover needs to be “monitored closely”.
He said: “For the moment, the WHO assesses the risk to humans as low.
“But we cannot assume that will remain the case and we must prepare for any change in the status quo.”
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The health official said transmission in humans has been “rare and unsustained” since the particular strain of bird flu that is prevalent currently — H5N1 — emerged in 1996.
Four people were infected with the virus last year across the globe, with one dying.
But WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said bird flu poses a constant threat because of its pandemic-causing potential.
He said: “Surveillance in animals is important to catch any changes in the virus that have implications for human health.”
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The WHO called on countries to strengthen surveillance in areas where animals and humans interact, like farms.
Experts who advised Britain’s response to the Covid pandemic last week told The Sun vaccines for the virus should be made in case the worst were to happen.
Dr Tedros said the WHO is holding talks with manufacturers to make sure supplies of vaccines and antivirals would be available.
It comes after evidence of the virus spreading between minks in Spain last month caused international concern.
Professor James Wood, of the University of Cambridge, said: "There has been massive international exposure of birds, and some mammals, including humans, due to the unprecedented scale of the current avian influenza pandemic in wild birds over the last three years that has frequently spread to farmed birds.
"Despite what must be massively increased exposure of humans to this virus, widespread transmission has never been detected and most cases spilling over to humans and other animals have just been single cases that have not spread further.
"A stark exception to this has been in farmed mink where transmission has been reported.
"Despite what appears to be innate resistance of humans to the current virus strain, the widespread exposure does raise the possibility of the avian virus recombining with a human (or other) influenza virus to change into one that can transmit in humans.
"However, this has not yet occurred despite the unprecedented scale of exposure."
He added: “The likelihood of human exposure can be reduced by good biosecurity on poultry farms and by people following government advice to avoid contact with dead or dying birds.
"Systematic changes in international agriculture, including the global banning of mink farming, can also play an important role in mitigating the risk of a human pandemic."
Bird flu has only ever been found in one person in Britain, when Alan Gosling, 79, a retired engineer in Devon, caught it from ducks in his home in December 2021.
But the virus can be fatal in up to half of people it infects.
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UK Health Security Agency data shows nine mammals tested since December were positive for bird flu.
The animals are believed to have eaten dead wild birds that were infected with the virus.
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