Bird Flu Pandemic: “A Question of When,” Says Ex-CDC Director


Former CDC Director Robert Redfield recently spoke on NewsNation, stating that a bird flu pandemic is “very likely.”

Redfield, a virologist and ex-CDC head from 2018 to 2021, warned that bird flu in humans has a high mortality rate and could be more deadly than COVID-19.

The Threat of Bird Flu

Bird flu viruses are common in wild birds but typically don’t affect humans.

Problems occur when these viruses mutate and jump to other species, including humans.

All major flu pandemics in the 20th and 21st centuries, like the 1918 Spanish flu and the 2009 swine flu, started with avian flu viruses.

Lately, there’s been an unprecedented spread of highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza among birds and mammals.

Outbreaks on US dairy farms have led to infections in farm cats and three human workers, who only experienced mild illness.

The virus has even been found in beef and milk, though experts assure that the food supply is safe and the risk to the public is low.

Increasing Risk

Redfield highlighted that the more the virus spreads to mammals and humans, the greater the chance it will adapt to spread between people.

He emphasized that it’s not a matter of if, but when, we will face a bird flu pandemic.

Since 2019, there’s been a steady rise in mammal infections in the US, with around 27 different species affected.

H5N1 and other H5 subtypes are especially concerning.

A recent human H5N2 infection in Mexico showed the risk these viruses pose, though H5N1 remains the primary focus due to its widespread reach.

Viral Adaptations

Redfield explained that H5N1 is changing as it infects more mammals, learning to use different receptors in animals like dolphins, seals, bears, foxes, and raccoons.

These changes could eventually allow the virus to spread more easily among humans.

Global Surveillance and Precautions

Health authorities worldwide are closely monitoring the virus.

Predicting when the virus might mutate to spread between humans is difficult, but Redfield warned of a potential mortality rate of 25 to 50 percent, much higher than COVID-19.

Currently, there’s no evidence that H5N1 can spread between humans. Human cases have been isolated and linked to close contact with infected animals.

However, some countries are already taking precautions. Finland plans to vaccinate at-risk individuals after the EU secured a large order of an H5N8-based vaccine, and other countries may follow suit.

Unlike COVID-19, we already have a supply of vaccines for bird flu, which could help mitigate a future pandemic.

The lessons learned from COVID-19 will hopefully aid in addressing the next pandemic when it comes.