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Why Finland will receive the world’s first human bird flu vaccine even though it has no cases – Firstpost

Finland will become the first country in the world to start vaccination against bird flu in humans. Image for Representation. Reuters

In a world first, Finland is set to roll out the bird flu vaccine in humans next week, targeting workers who are most exposed to animals. This proactive measure involves vaccinating 10,000 people, each of whom will receive two doses, as part of a broader EU effort that includes up to 40 million doses in 15 countries.

CSL Seqirus, the Australian pharmaceutical company behind the vaccines, confirmed Reuters Finland will be the first country to launch this vaccination strategy. “The vaccine will be offered to people over 18 years of age who are at increased risk of contracting bird flu due to their work or other circumstances,” announced the Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare (THL).

Although the Nordic country has not yet detected any human cases of the virus, this preventive approach is part of the country’s efforts to safeguard its population and mitigate the risks of bird flu, especially from its fur farms.

From birds to livestock to humans

Avian influenza, formally known as avian influenza, encompasses several influenza type A viruses that primarily affect birds, but can also infect non-avian species, including humans.

Among the many strains, H5N1 is one of the most important that has been circulating among wild birds around the world.

Birds transmit the virus through their saliva, mucus and feces, posing a risk to people and animals that are in close, unprotected contact with infected birds or contaminated environments.

In a surprising development in March, the H5N1 strain spread rapidly among dairy cow herds in the United States and was described by the CDC as an “ongoing multi-state outbreak.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported infections in 101 dairy herds in 12 states, and several cases were also found in dairy workers.

Dairy cow herds in several US states have tested positive for bird flu. Image for Representation. AP

This transmission to cattle surprised scientists, who previously believed cows were not susceptible to the virus.

Beyond cattle, the H5N1 outbreak has also severely affected poultry. According to the CDC, more than 97 million poultry have been affected by the virus as of June 20, causing widespread devastation in the industry.

How common is bird flu in humans?

There have been cases of humans contracting H5N1 from time to time in several countries, including Cambodia, Chile, China, Vietnam, Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

Earlier this year, when H5N1 spread through U.S. cow herds, several dairy workers were found to be infected, although their symptoms were mild.

There is no evidence that the virus can transform into a form that poses much of a threat to humans; However, two eminent flu experts warned in an article in the British Medical Journal: ‘the danger and risk of a major H5N1 outbreak are great, plausible and imminent.’ Image for AP Representation.

Humans generally contract bird flu through direct contact with infected animals or their byproducts, such as carcasses, saliva, or feces. The virus is also airborne, meaning inhaling it near an infected animal can lead to infection.

One notable case that emerged in May involved a 59-year-old man in Mexico who died from H5N2, a strain of bird flu never before recorded in humans. The source of his infection is still unclear. Professor Sir Peter Horby, director of the Institute of Pandemic Sciences at the University of Oxford, told the bbc“This case is one of a series of events that collectively could be considered a warning sign.”

Although there is no evidence that the virus can transform into a form that poses a major threat to humans, two eminent flu experts warned in an article in the British medical journal: “the danger and risk of a major H5N1 outbreak are great, plausible and imminent.”

Finland’s preemptive strike

Last year, Finland experienced major outbreaks of bird flu on mink and fox fur farms, especially those located outdoors. These outbreaks led to the culling of approximately 485,000 animals to control the virus. The virus has also killed thousands of seagulls and other bird species, threatened livestock and led to travel restrictions in some areas.

“Mink are a particularly problematic species when it comes to avian influenza infections,” said a THL representative. Reutersnoting that mink can serve as an effective intermediate host, allowing the virus to mutate into forms more likely to infect humans.

Finnish authorities have identified several high-risk groups for vaccination: fur and poultry farm workers, laboratory technicians handling bird flu samples, veterinarians working as animal control officers in fur farm regions, and people working in sanctuaries. , livestock farms or processing plants for animal by-products.

Vaccinations are expected to begin next week in some parts of the country. A THL spokesperson mentioned Reuters that if a human infection of avian influenza occurs, the vaccine will also be offered to close contacts of suspected or confirmed cases.

With contributions from agencies

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