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Former CDC Director Says Bird Flu Pandemic Is "Very Likely"

Its mortality rate could also be significantly worse than COVID's.

The COVID pandemic changed the world as we know it. While many of us have abandoned wearing masks or working remotely, the coronavirus has had lasting effects on the way we live our lives—not to mention our awareness of other potential health emergencies. Now, another virus is causing concern among experts, including a former director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who says that a bird flu pandemic is "very likely."

RELATED: Second Human Bird Flu Case Is the "Tip of the Iceberg," Pandemic Expert Says.

The H5N1 bird flu is spreading worldwide through wild birds, causing outbreaks in poultry and dairy cows across the U.S., according to the CDC. It has also infected four humans in the country since 2022, although the agency notes that bird flu viruses "usually do not infect people."

But in a June 14 interview for NewsNation, Robert Redfield, MD, an American virologist who served as the director of the CDC under former President Donald Trump, discussed the likelihood that this virus will start to impact humans in a much more serious way.

"I really do think it's very likely that we will, at some time—it's not a question of if, it's more of a question of when—we will have a bird flu pandemic," Redfield told NewsNation.

So far, the CDC says there has been no person-to-person spread of the H5N1 bird flu. One person tested positive for the virus in 2022 after being exposed to poultry that had been infected, while the three other cases occurred this year in dairy farm workers who had confirmed exposures to sick cows.

But Redfield said research has determined what it would take for the virus to start spreading directly between humans. If five amino acids change in the key receptor to allow the bird flu to bind to a human receptor, it would "then be able to go human to human" like COVID did, the former CDC director explained.

"Once the virus gains the ability to attach to the human receptor and then go human to human, that's when you're going to have the pandemic," Redfield told NewsNation. "And as I said, I think it's just a matter of time."

RELATED: Bird Flu Spreading in Cats—These Are the Symptoms.

The former CDC director noted that he doesn't know exactly how long it will take for those five receptors to change, but he said that as the virus is detected in more types of mammals across the U.S., it's quickly going through a multitude of changes and getting closer and closer to humans.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the H5N1 virus has already been detected in more than 20 species of mammals throughout the nation since May 2022. And as the virus spreads across more cattle, Redfield said he's concerned because these herds often live close to pigs.

"In flu, there's been a relationship before going from pigs to humans," he explained.

The bird flu also has the chance to be much deadlier than COVID was if it starts spreading between humans, according to the former CDC director.

"Unfortunately bird flu, when it does enter humans, has a significant mortality rate—probably somewhere between 25 and 50 percent mortality," Redfield told NewsNation. COVID, on the other hand, has closer to a 0.6 percent mortality rate, the outlet reported.

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Kali Coleman
Kali Coleman is a Senior Editor at Best Life. Her primary focus is covering news, where she often keeps readers informed on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and up-to-date on the latest retail closures. Read more
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