The risk to public health remains low, but concern about where avian flu will end up remains on the rise.

Since March, the number of infections has reached 94 dairy herds in 12 states, and former CDC Director Robert Redfield predicts the end will come in a bird flu pandemic. It’s only a matter of time, according to Redfield.

The three-year old bird flu outbreak has touched six continents,  Commercial poultry in the U.S.has been hit hard, losing 80 million chickens and 14 million turkeys to the flu since 2022.  The losses included 71 million egg layers.

In 31 states, mammals have succumbed to the bird flu, including foxes, skunks, mountain lions, house cats and others. It has infected three farm workers this year and another in early 2022; all recovered from a cough without fever and pink eye.

At this point, the flu virus isn’t yet spreading from human to human. The virus does not bind to human receptors; it must mutate to make the jump to humans.

Meanwhile, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said twenty-four companies are working to develop an avian flu vaccine for cattle to combat the virus spread among U.S. dairy herds.

Such a vaccine could curb the risk of bird flu spreading to new species and lessen potential economic losses for dairy farmers, but it could take years to develop.

The USDA is also conducting preliminary research into a vaccine at its laboratory in Ames, IA.

The European Union has contracted for millions of doses of a vaccine against bird flu for 15 member countries, focusing on 15 member states with a rise in cases of the respiratory virus. The EU is quickly procuring vaccine doses — which can be adapted to any bird flu strain — from an Australia-based manufacturer.

Under the terms of the agreement, CSL Seqirus will deliver 665,000 doses of pre-pandemic vaccine to fifteen EU and EEA Member States, as well as the “Union Civil Protection Mechanism” (rescue).  In addition, there is an option to purchase up to an additional 40 million doses of the pre-pandemic vaccine throughout the four-year contract. 

The first European country offering vaccines to at-risk populations is Finland.

According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 912 human cases of H5N1 bird flu have been recorded worldwide since 1997, most from close contact with infected animals.  The fatality rate for those cases is about 50 percent.

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Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include information about the agreement with CSL Seqirus.