The world is on the brink of a new influenza pandemic, and it’s time to take action. That’s the warning from experts in the wake of the H5N1 strain of bird flu, which is spreading rapidly among wild birds and other mammals. Scientists are now working to develop a universal flu vaccine that could protect against all variants of the virus, including potential pandemic ones.
The H5N1 strain has caused the death of at least 150 million animals so far, and experts are concerned that it could become more easily airborne if it evolves to bind to receptors in the upper respiratory tract. This could lead to a pandemic among humans, making the risk of a large-scale outbreak much higher.
Fortunately, we already have antivirals for influenza that work regardless of strain. But they need to be administered early, which requires widespread early testing, easy access, and sufficient and equitable stockpiles globally. We also need to increase funding for efforts against the current virus and invest in a universal flu vaccine.
Deadly influenza pandemics occur regularly in human history, and we should not wait until it’s too late. We have the warning and many of the tools we need to fend a pandemic off. Now is the time to act and protect ourselves from a potential disaster.