The World Health Organization (WHO) has raised concerns about the spread of the H5N1 bird flu variant that has an “extraordinarily high” mortality rate in humans. The deaths of tens of millions of farmed birds, and many wild birds, as a result of an outbreak that began in 2020 was thought to be the extent of the pandemic, but most recently, the spread of the virus within several mammal species, including cows and goats, has increased the risk of causing a human epidemic (or even worse, a pandemic).

In April 2024, a person in Texas ended up in hospital with bird flu after getting it from dairy cows, and 16 herds across six states are alleged to be infected. Jeremy Farrar, the UN health agency’s chief scientist told reporters in Geneva, “The great concern of course is that in … infecting ducks and chickens and then increasingly mammals, that virus now evolves and develops the ability to infect humans and then critically the ability to go from human to human.” There is no yet evidence that H5N1 is spreading between humans, but when humans are infected from other animals Ferrar said that the mortality rate is extraordinarily high. He said vaccines are being developed for H5N1.

There have been 889 cases and 463 deaths caused by H5N1 from 2003 to 2024, in 23 countries, putting the case fatality rate at 52%. The avian influenza virus A(H5N1) emerged in 1996, first identified in southern China and Hong Kong in farmed birds. The virus had only been sporadically detected in European-farmed birds before 2021 when it spread. 

The connection between the avian flu pandemic and animal agriculture is persuasive, either for having first emerged in factory farms, or have transformed what was a naturally controlled virus in the wild into a pandemic, as factory-farmed animals are kept in ideal conditions for the spreading of diseases, and the abundant use of antibiotics by the animal agriculture industry would not have prevented the spreading of viruses (not affected by antibiotics).

“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.