When will bird flu be the next pandemic?

The coronavirus will not be the last pandemic. Every so often viruses jump over from the animal kingdom to man. Poultry farmers are very concerned about bird flu, which is becoming increasingly common. According to virologist Dr Sander Herfst of Erasmus MC, that virus can also become dangerous to humans. The question is not whether this will become a new pandemic, but when. Sander Herfst explains it in a video of the University of the Netherlands.

There have been more and more outbreaks of bird flu in recent years. This is partly because we in the Netherlands have the highest chicken density in Europe. These chickens are increasingly being kept outside, because we think it is important that they have a good life. Infected birds fly over the chickens and drop their droppings there, making the chickens sick. Within 36 hours a whole barn can die from the virus.

Very occasionally, such a virus jumps to humans: "Most of the time it is a dead-end because a virus like that cannot be transmitted from person to person. To become transmissible, a virus has to adapt and unfortunately that is exactly what it does when it multiplies." The virus mutates when it copies itself and if that happens in the right way, then the virus also becomes transmissible from human to human, possibly resulting in a pandemic.

"In science, we are convinced that there will be another pandemic. The only question remains: when?" says Sander Herfst. “If the next bird flu is a mixture of viruses, it may not be as bad as we expected. Because we are already partly protected. But if it is a completely new variant and we have therefore not yet built up any protection at all, then it could be much more severe."

Sander Herfst explains exactly what it takes for a bird flu virus to mutate into a virus that can also be transmitted from human to human (in Dutch).

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In het onderzoek van Herfst worden de factoren bepaald die noodzakelijk zijn voor efficiënte overdracht van deze luchtwegvirussen tussen mensen.
Viroloog dr. Sander Herfst van het Erasmus MC heeft een Vidi-subsidie van 800.000 euro gekregen voor onderzoek naar de overdraagbaarheid van luchtwegvirussen.
Vidi-subsidie voor Sander Herfst

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