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Fears raised over bird to human transmission of avian flu sparking new pandemic

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A team of global scientists have raised fears the devastating bird flu outbreak could eventually transmit to humans and create a new pandemic.Experts are nervously monitoring last year’s record waves of avian flu due to concerns the virus could adapt to spread among people.The disease has taken a brutal toll on Scots birds with more than 60 species affected and seabird colonies like gannets and great skuas decimated.Worldwide, the latest outbreaks are thought to have killed some 97 million birds.

The Scottish Government insisted the risk to humans of the current H5N1 influenza strain was “very low”.But Wendy Blay Puryear, a virologist at Tufts University in Massachusetts, US, said: “There is concern about it having pandemic potential.“Before Covid was on anybody’s radar, this was the one that we were all watching very closely.“Anything that has the ability to replicate and evolve rapidly, and anything that has that ability to infect a lot of different hosts is kind of on borrowed time.”Thijs Kuiken, a professor of viroscience at Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, added: “The chance of this happening is very small.“But the impact – if it does happen – is very big, because it means that we then have a new influenza pandemic.”He pointed to the 1918 flu pandemic - caused by an influenza virus with genes of avian origin - which went on to kill 50 million people.So far since 2003, H5N1 has infected some 865 humans around the world - claiming the lives of 456 people, a rate of more than half.In the UK in 2021, a duck breeder tested positive for the bug after handling infected poultry.A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Winter 2021/22 has seen the largest outbreak of avian flu in the UK to date.

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