H5N1 Flu Jumps to Seals, Sparking Zoonotic Concerns; All About The Avian Influenza

A recent study found that seals were fatally infected by the H5N1 virus. The study took into consideration 15 dead seals and was identified in the St. Lawrence Estuary, Quebec, Canada. The necropsy of the seals confirmed that the seals died due to the viral infection. Read on to know more about the H5N1 Avian influenza.
H5N1 Flu Jumps to Seals, Sparking Zoonotic Concerns

H5N1 Flu Jumps to Seals, Sparking Zoonotic Concerns

A recent study conducted by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that seals were infected by a highly pathogenic strain of the avian influenza (H5N1) virus. For the study, the researchers conducted postmortem examinations of seal carcasses and molecular sequencing. They found the H5N1 lineages were either exclusively Eurasian or a combination of Eurasian with North American genome constellations.
The study took into consideration 15 dead seals and was identified in the St. Lawrence Estuary, Quebec, Canada. The necropsy of the seals confirmed that the seals died due to the viral infection. The study published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases raises concerns about the zoonotic spillover from these marine mammals to humans or other mammals.
For the study, the researchers took data from the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network between April 1 and September 30, 2022. They also conducted a detailed postmortem of 27 frozen seal carcasses, 15 of which (55.56%) were observed to have been fatally infected by H5N1 virus.
Earlier in April, Dr Suresh Kuchipudi, a prominent bird flu researcher in Pittsburgh said that the H5N1 flu can cause a pandemic due to its ability to infect a wide range of mammals, including humans. He said, “We are getting dangerously close to this virus potentially causing a pandemic.
“We are not really talking about a virus that is yet to make a jump, we are talking about a virus that is globally present, already infecting a range of mammals and is circulating… It is really high time that we are prepared.”
John Fulton, a pharmaceutical industry consultant during the same briefing said, “This appears to be 100 times worse than Covid, or it could be if it mutates and maintains its high case fatality rate. Once it’s mutated to infect humans, we can only hope that the [fatality rate] drops.”

What is the H5N1 bird flu?

H5N1 bird flu, also known as bird flu or Avian influenza is a type of zoonotic influenza which affects wild birds and poultry and is caused by virus sub-types A(H5N1), A(H9N2). The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that 52 out of every 100 patients infected with the H5N1 virus have died since 2003, making its fatality rate over 50 per cent.
On the other hand, the current Covid fatality rate is 0.1 per cent, dropping down from 20 per cent at the start of the pandemic.

Signs and Symptoms of the H5N1 bird flu

  • Fever: High temperature is often the first sign, typically above 38°C (100.4°F).
  • Cough: Initially, a dry cough that can become more severe over time.
  • Sore throat: Discomfort or pain in the throat area, making swallowing difficult.
  • Muscle aches: Body aches and pains.
  • Headache: This can range from mild to severe.
  • Respiratory symptoms: Early stages may present mild respiratory issues that can rapidly progress.
Here, take a look at some of the signs and symptoms of the infection when it reaches the advanced stages.
  • Pneumonia: This is indicated by difficulty breathing, rapid breathing, or wheezing.
  • Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS): A severe form of respiratory failure.
  • Diarrhoea: Unlike usual influenza, H5N1 can cause gastrointestinal symptoms.
  • Vomiting: This can occur in conjunction with other gastrointestinal symptoms.
  • Bleeding from the nose and gums: This usually happens in severe cases.
  • Neurological changes: Rarely, encephalitis (brain inflammation) can happen which eventually leads to seizures or altered mental states.
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