The Avian Flu: Is it causing a strain on the world?

The current avian flu is the worst the world has seen. This highly pathogenic strain has resulted in the death of millions of wild birds since 2022 and it’s only spreading further worldwide. But what does the avian flu mean for us? How concerned should we be?

Key points:

  • The avian flu outbreak is the worst the world has seen. It’s vital to monitor its pathogenicity and the different countries affected.
  • To understand how widespread the virus is, diagnostic samples are essential; this helps us understand which animals are affected and in which countries.
  • Whilst controversial, a vaccine may be the solution for the future, this would most likely be an m-RNA vaccine due to its increased safety and efficiency.
  • Diagnostic samples and m-RNA vaccines require storage at a temperature of at least -70oC to ensure viral survival and vaccine stability. Froilabo TRUST freezers offer a reliable solution.
  • Froilabo freezers ensure that your samples maintain their integrity, with excellent temperature homogeneity throughout the full freezer.

What is the avian flu?

The avian flu is influenza for birds.

Similar to human influenza, the avian flu tends to be seasonal, with countless different types of variants, making vaccine production tricky. However, in recent years, and even months, the avian flu is becoming more pathogenic, deadly, and devastatingly spreading worldwide. Specifically, the variant causing worldwide implications is the H5N1 variant –the most common and pathogenic variant of avian flu.

H5N1 strain of avian flu is having devastating affects on different species of birds across the globe.

Should we be worried about the Avian flu?

Yes, we should all be concerned about the avian flu.

Whilst at first glance the avian flu might seem not to affect us: when you dig a little deeper you realise just how dangerous it can be. Currently, the avian flu outbreak is the worst the world has seen, with millions of wild birds deceased, and several countries being affected which previously hadn’t seen a case of avian flu. Due to the high pathogenicity of this variant, birds and poultry are being wiped out at a rate never seen before, thereby increasing the risk of the avian flu becoming endemic.

The risk of the virus transferring to humans is very low, but the risk is still there. To date, there have been 837 people infected with the avian flu, and whilst this number may be considered low, over 50% of individuals who have caught this virus have died. At present, the avian flu isn’t fine-tuned to infect humans, but this doesn’t mean it will stay this way forever. Viruses are highly prone to changing, and with the number of cases of avian flu rising, the risk of the virus adapting to spread between humans efficiently is increasing.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only concern: there is a significant economic impact of this virus, which affects the trade of various food items. According to EU guidelines, you are unable to import poultry and related poultry products from countries with disease restriction zones with confirmed cases of avian flu. The food supply is vulnerable to a disease outbreak and can result in the cost of food items going up. For example, cultural events that customarily would feature a poultry dish (such as Thanksgiving and Christmas) could suffer, as stock of these items could be scarce, and the price substantially higher than previous years.

Who does it affect?

The avian flu affects everyone.

The current variant is extremely transmissible and spreading globally and to a wider range of animals compared to prior avian flu outbreaks. Ten countries within three continents have reported outbreaks in mammals since 2022, with both land and sea mammals being affected; such as farmed mink in Spain, cats in Poland, and seals in the United States. Furthermore, this infectious variant reached South America for the first time in 2022, with over 200,000 wild bird deaths in Peru alone.

Overall, it’s challenging to fully calculate just how widespread this virus is, and how many birds, poultry and mammals are affected and dying. Not all deceased animals are found, and not all are tested for influenza. This means that even if thousands of deaths are reported, in reality the number is likely to be much higher.

What can we do?

Be cautious when approaching deceased animals you think may be infected and continue to support scientists and their analysis of diagnostic samples and vaccine production.

At present, there aren’t many viable solutions to deal with this outbreak: due to trading laws, vaccination against the virus is extremely low, and would normally only occur in places such as bird sanctuaries. However, this outlook is currently changing due to the severity of the outbreak, and vaccination against the avian flu could be the future. If this was the case, a messenger-RNA (mRNA) vaccine would likely be utilised due to its safety and quick production time.

mRNA vaccines are likely to be deployed against avian flu in the future

At present, managing the outbreak involves the collection of diagnostic samples to understand if people are infected with the avian flu, how widespread the virus is, and how many birds, poultry, and other mammals are dying due to this. This will aid in creating preventative measures to keep the virus under control, and minimise the risk of viral mutation for efficient human infection.

Froilabo TRUST freezers: Optimal Storage Solution

Sample storage you can rely on is essential to ensure accurate, reliable, and repeatable results. For diagnostic samples of avian flu, if the time from collection to analysis is greater than 72 hours, then appropriate frozen storage is required. This includes storing samples at -70oC or lower to ensure viral survival. Anything above this temperature risks viral death, and so maintaining this temperature throughout the whole freezer is essential. Furthermore, due to the instability of m-RNA, it is vital to keep m-RNA vaccines at -80oC to ensure vaccine viability.

The TRUST freezer is available in 3 different sizes to suit your laboratory needs.

The Froilabo TRUST freezer provides excellent temperature homogeneity throughout the full freezer, where diagnostic samples and m-RNA vaccines can be stored safely. Sample integrity is a priority at Froilabo, and you can trust that our freezer will keep your samples integrity, ensuring accuracy and scientific success.