CDC says it’s in a ‘posture of readiness’ amid bird flu pandemic fears

CDC says it’s in a ‘posture of readiness’ amid fears H5N1 bird flu is poised to jump to humans — and reveals there are several vaccines and drugs in the works

US health officials are ramping up their pandemic preparedness plans after a bird flu scare in Cambodia.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it is in a ‘posture of readiness’ with several vaccine and drug candidates in the works.

National testing capacity is also being built-up in case the H5N1 strain that has devastated bird populations around the world spills over into people.

Flu fighter’ John Barnes told a CDC webinar Monday: ‘Our priorities at this point are really to be in a posture of readiness. So we’re continuing our pandemic planning activities and should the situation change, we’ve got surveillance activities and monitoring of exposed individuals.’

Fears of a flu pandemic were ramped up last week after a Cambodian father and daughter were diagnosed with H5N1, raising fears it was spreading between people for the first time in decades.

In this file photo taken on March 1, 2013, a Cambodian man carries chickens at a market in Phnom Penh

Like all flus, the virus is spread primarily through droplets in the air which are breathed in or get into a person's mouth, eyes or nose

Like all flus, the virus is spread primarily through droplets in the air which are breathed in or get into a person’s mouth, eyes or nose

However, health officials said it was ‘unlikely’, suggesting they both caught it from the same source – likely an infected bird. 

But the threat of a spillover remains. More than 15 million birds worldwide have been struck down and killed by the virus itself, while governments have collectively culled more than 200m to curb the virus’ spread, including 58m in the US alone.

Dr Barnes, the CDC’s lead for its Influenza Genomics team, told the conference: ‘We’re continuing our viral genomic analysis from the data that we’re getting from the outbreaks. 

‘We have pandemic vaccine risk mitigation, outlining for a potential H5 if we need to use that in a vaccine.

‘National testing capacity readiness is something that we’re working on.’ 

The world was caught on the back foot by Covid when it emerged in late 2019, forcing most of the world to rely on lockdown curbs to reduce the spread of the virus while tests, drugs and vaccines were put into rapid production.

Dr Barnes said the agency was in talks with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about developing a specific test for H5N1, either in-house or with the help of commercial companies.

‘And so we’re continuing to look at vaccine effectiveness, safety and immunization systems.’

Dr Barnes added that several drug and vaccine candidates had already been highlighted and he expects them to provide strong protection.

‘The sequence analysis that we are doing currently indicates that most of these strains, our antiviral treatments would be very effective against them. 

‘And so over 99 percent of them would be a good candidate to be mitigated by antiviral treatments.

‘And then we have candidate vaccine viruses for this strain, and it was added to manufacture and given to manufacturers in early 2022. 

‘The candidate vaccine virus, and then mink H5, are 100 percent identical for the part that matters HA1. And so this is a likely good candidate.’

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