Health and Healthcare Systems

CDC monitoring bird flu spread, and other top health stories

People wearing protective suits collect dead birds, as there is a major outbreak of bird flu.

Concerns around bird flu are rising, but health authorities say the risk to humans remains low. Image: via REUTERS

Shyam Bishen
Head, Centre for Health and Healthcare; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
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This article is part of: Centre for Health and Healthcare
  • This global round-up brings you health stories from the past fortnight.
  • Top health news: CDC monitoring US bird flu spread; new WHO report on non-communicable diseases; Sudan facing “catastrophic” food shortages.

1. CDC monitoring US bird flu spread

Bird flu continues to make health headlines around the world.

A former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was recently quoted as saying a bird flu pandemic was “not a question of if, it’s more of a question of when”. He added such a pandemic would likely have a high mortality rate among humans.

So what's the current situation? The CDC is monitoring what it describes as a "multi-state outbreak" of the H5N1 strain of bird flu among dairy cattle in the US. Three dairy farm workers have recently been infected.

Avian influenza viruses are normally spread between birds, but have been increasingly detected in mammals, which has raised concerns the virus might adapt to infect humans more easily. A recent report from the US suggested there was “strong evidence” that bird flu had spread from mammals to humans for the first time.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said there is no sign yet that the H5N1 avian influenza virus is spreading between humans.

The WHO and the CDC currently advise that the public health risk posed by H5N1 is low – but the CDC says it is monitoring the situation closely and “preparing for the possibility” that the virus could gain the ability to spread more easily to and among people.

Recent human cases of H5N1 bird flu remain low, according to CDC figures.
Recent human cases of H5N1 bird flu remain low, according to CDC figures. Image: US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

2. WHO report links four products to a third of global deaths

A new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) has highlighted the impact of certain corporate products on rates on non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Tobacco, ultra-processed food, fossil fuels and alcohol, it says, “cause 19 million deaths per year globally, or 34% of all deaths”.

The report from the WHO Regional Office for Europe looks at NCDs – such as cancer, cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes – and their risk factors, including tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy diets and obesity. It calls on countries, academia, international organizations and civil society to work together to create policies to protect people from “preventable chronic diseases”.

Non-communicable diseases outnumber infectious diseases as the “top killers globally”, according to the United Nations.

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3. News in brief: Health stories from around the world

An estimated 756,000 people in Sudan could face catastrophic food shortages by September, according to the United Nations. UN agencies have also said the country is at "imminent risk of famine", with about 3.6 million children acutely malnourished.

Experts have said that a rise in dengue fever in Europe is due to the invasive tiger mosquito. The climate crisis is creating the ideal conditions for the species to spread, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Scientists say they have discovered a major cause of inflammatory bowel disease. A DNA weak spot present in 95% of people with the disease makes it easier for some immune cells to “go haywire” and drive excessive inflammation in the bowels, the BBC reports.

Eating a “planet-friendly” diet could reduce the risk of premature death, a new study says. Researchers studied data on more than 200,000 people collected over 34 years and found those eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains were up to 30% less likely to die prematurely from any cause.

Amid concerns around young people’s mental health, the US Surgeon General has demanded social media apps are labelled with a warning, similar to those on cigarettes and alcohol.

The UK’s Royal College of Radiologists has warned that a shortfall in cancer doctors is an "impending crisis", saying that long waits for cancer care are becoming routine in the country. The overall number of people waiting for treatment in hospitals in the UK also rose in April to 7.57 million, with more than 300,000 of the waits having been longer than a year.

According to Moderna, its combination vaccine to protect against both COVID-19 and influenza generated a stronger immune response in adults aged 50 and over when compared to separate shots against the viruses in a late-stage trial. In the study, the combination using messenger RNA technology generated greater antibodies than currently marketed traditional flu vaccines and Moderna's Spikevax mRNA COVID shot, the company said.

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4. More health stories from our blog

As the climate crisis fuels outbreaks of disease, this article outlines how a holistic approach to disease prevention and management is crucial.

Our global food system is in urgent need of transition, and this calls for a comprehensive transformation much like the energy transition, on both an incremental and a systemic level. Read more.

Nearly two-thirds of people with moderate-to-severe vision impairment globally live in Asia Pacific. Find out why, and what we can do to change it, in this article.

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