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WHO ‘worried’ about 2 people with bird flu; still recommend COVID masks

Ambulance (Dreamstime/TNS)
March 01, 2023

The World Health Organization (WHO), is monitoring bird (avian) flu outbreaks with increased concern after the virus reportedly spread to two humans in Cambodia in recent days. The organization also still recommends universal masking in crowded areas despite recent scientific studies concluding masks have no impact on stopping the spread of respiratory illnesses.

Dr Sylvie Briand, the director of epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention, recently told reporters from Reuters and other news outlets that the ongoing spread of the bird flu H5N1 is “worrying,” due to rising cases in both birds and mammals.

The WHO, which serves as the primary health agency for the United Nations, recently assessed that the risk posed by the bird flu remains low. But Briand shared concerns of a potentially worsening virus.

“The global H5N1 situation is worrying given the wide spread of the virus in birds around the world and the increasing reports of cases in mammals including humans,” Briand said. 

One of the people infected with bird flu in Cambodia was an 11-year-old girl who died after contracting the virus. Health authorities in the country tested 12 of her contacts, including her father who also tested positive for the virus.

“WHO takes the risk from this virus seriously and urges heightened vigilance from all countries.”

For now, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies the risk posed by the H5N1 virus as “low.” The CDC website noted fewer than 10 human cases of H5N1 have been reported around the world since December of 2021.

Bird flu can spread to humans through direct contact between a person and a bird or a contaminated surface. According to the CDC, cases can occur when a person handles poultry or a contaminated surface and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth.

While H5N1 has had little direct impact on the human population thus far, it has devastated the bird population. Tens of millions of birds have died in the past year, spiking costs for poultry and eggs.

A recent analysis of scientific studies conducted on the use of masks for stopping the spread of respiratory illnesses determined masks don’t have any impact.

Oxford epidemiologist and lead author of the analysis Tom Jefferson told journalist Maryanne Demasi, “There is just no evidence that [masks] make any difference. Full stop.”