H5N1 – coming soon

With a world suffering with pandemic fatigue, knobhead anti-vaxxers rife everywhere you look, and a general deep distrust of Government-instituted Nonpharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs), an outbreak of something really serious right now couldn’t come at a worse time.

Jimmy Carr: “Do you think we overreacted to Covid-19?”
Audience: “Yes!”
JC: “Yeah, a lot of the survivors think so.”

Jimmy Carr – His Dark Material (2021)

And yet, the warning signs are very much there that Highly Pathogenic Avian Flu (HPAI) (H5N1) has had its fun with the birds and is moving onto mammals. In the US, there have been almost 200 “spillover” infections of mammals with the virus:

On March 29, the USDA first published its data on cases of HPAI infections in mammals from 2022 to late March 2023. The H5N1 virus subtype was detected in numerous species: bobcat, black and brown bears, bottlenose dolphin, harbor and grey seals, mountain lion, red fox, raccoon, striped skunk, and more.

While on the Pacific Coast of South America it’s looking even more serious:


Senapesca made a balance on Monday on the progress of avian influenza in Chile, detailing that a total of 11,471 specimens have died as a result of this influenza.
The authorities confirmed the deaths of 9,853 sea lions, 1,555 Humboldt penguins, 27 chungungos, 21 spiny porpoises, 14 Chilean dolphins and one huillín.

Senapesca is the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in Chile.
Chungungos and huillíns are two different sorts of otter. You live*, you learn.

And sure, the penguins are very much avian, but the rest of them… well… it’s not good news.

It’s important to understand that at the moment, there have been very few human cases of H5N1, and no reports of human to human transmission. So no need to panic. But there are a couple of provisos: firstly, that this is a very nasty virus with a very high mortality rate in the cases we have seen (far, far (far!) higher than SARS-CoV-2), and secondly, we’re potentially only ever one mutation away from that human to human transmission becoming a thing, and the more mammalian infections that we see, the more likely that is to happen.

On the plus side, we have a very good handle on this Influenza virus already. It’s been around for a while and we’ve got a lot of information on its genomics and how it works. That should mean that any vaccine production should be able to be rapidly achieved, and that the product should be very effective.

But then there are all the politics and logistics to slow things down.

It then remains to be seen – in the event of it all going pear-shaped – how many people will actually go and get vaccinated, given the problems detailed in the first paragraph above. But in this case, I can’t see choosing not to as being any more than an accelerated form of natural selection.

Anyway, definitely one to watch out for.
Enjoy your day.

* not if you’re an otter, obviously