BIRD flu could spill over to humans and new vaccines should be developed, experts have told The Sun.
Concerns the virus could have a potentially devastating impact were raised after its spread to otters and foxes in Britain was revealed today.
The animals are believed to have eaten dead wild birds that were infected with the virus, which is currently at record levels in the UK.
UK Health Security Agency data shows nine mammals tested since December were positive for bird flu.
It comes after evidence of the virus spreading between minks in Spain last month caused international concern.
Professor Graham Medley, who advised the Government’s response during the Covid pandemic, said scientists should start preparing in case it starts spreading in people.
He told The Sun: “Avian influenza could be a nasty virus if it is able to pass from human to human.
“It cannot at the moment, but viruses do mutate and it appears to have become able to go from mink to mink in one instance in Spain.
“So there is evidence that it can cross species barriers.”
Professor Medley added: “There is little point in public alarm at this stage, but clearly something that scientists should be keeping a close eye on.
“Early development of vaccines would be a sensible, precautionary step I think.”
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, with experts fearing it could cause a deadly outbreak if it starts spreading regularly in people.
Professor Paul Hunter, of the University of East Anglia, told The Sun: “The big concern is that with each time it spreads to another person or mammal, the virus could start to mutate to become something that is increasingly infectious.
What are the symptoms of bird flu in humans?
The main symptoms of bird flu can appear very quickly and include:
- a very high temperature or feeling hot or shivery
- aching muscles
- a cough or shortness of breath
Other early symptoms may include:
- stomach pain
- chest pain
- bleeding from the nose and gums
Source: The NHS
“Of course, transmission in mink would only damage human health if the virus then jumped into humans.
“But any virus that is already able to spread in mammals would have a head start on a virus jumping into humans from birds.”
He added: “This scenario is not farfetched.
“Spanish flu that killed many millions over a century ago is thought to have been derived from an avian flu that then started to infect pigs before spreading into humans.”
However, other experts claim this is unlikely to happen again in the short-term.
Professor Ian Brown, the Animal and Plant Health Agency (Apha), said current evidence suggests “is still a bird virus essentially, that wants to be in birds”.
He said health officials will keep monitoring spread in other British wildlife to spot if it is becoming more infectious in humans.
Asked whether there was a possibility that bird flu could become a virus that spreads like Covid, he told BBC Radio 4: “At the moment, we’re a long way from that.
“We’ve seen this jump, we’ve not seen maintenance in a mammalian species and, importantly, we haven’t seen a succession of changes in the virus that tell us it’s moving more towards a virus that can infect humans.
“This still is a spillover, but we need to be watchful, which is why we’re doing the surveillance.”
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