Pre-emptive pandemic preparedness measures emerge in US against avian influenza A(H5N1), says GlobalData

With cases of avian influenza A(H5N1) on the rise among cattle in the US, government health officials are preparing for the potential of the virus adapting to enable human-to-human transmission and have two vaccine candidates available in case of such an event. While there is no evidence yet that H5N1 could spread between humans, such measures are essential for pandemic preparedness, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

Influenza A(H5N1) is classified as a highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus that predominately affects wild birds and poultry. Since March 2024, there has been an ongoing, multi-state outbreak among dairy cattle, affecting 49 dairy herds across nine states. Furthermore, there has been one reported human case of H5N1 infection among a dairy worker, as well as transmission from infected cattle to cats at a dairy farm.

Stephanie Kurdach, Infectious Disease Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “Although H5N1 infections in humans are rare, they can cause severe disease and should be taken seriously. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the mortality rate among humans infected with influenza A(H5N1) is approximately 50%.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is carefully surveilling H5N1 outbreaks and exposures among humans, partnering with the US Department of Interior, the US Department of Agriculture, and state and local health departments. This surveillance spans public health laboratories, emergency departments, clinical laboratory trends, and wastewater sources.

The US government also has two vaccine candidates in the nation’s stockpile in limited quantities. In the event of outbreaks among humans, hundreds of thousands of doses of these vaccines could be shipped out within a few weeks, and over 100 million doses within three to four months.

Kurdach continues: “These precautionary measures being taken by the US government are essential in order to prepare for and mitigate the effects of a potential pandemic, which is a possibility if viral mutations allow H5N1 to be readily transmitted between humans.”

According to the WHO, the next pandemic is most likely to be caused by the influenza virus.

GlobalData has identified 13 vaccines in active clinical development (Phases I-III) indicated for pandemic influenza/influenza A(H5N1). Of note are vaccine candidates from GSK (influenza A/H5N1 vaccine) and Moderna (mRNA-1018) – both of which are mRNA vaccines in active Phase I/II clinical trials. An mRNA H5N1 vaccine would be particularly beneficial in the event of a pandemic, as they can be manufactured much quicker than traditional vaccines.

Kurdach concludes: “Although the current risk of infection with influenza A(H5N1) to the general public is low, it is important to avoid contact with domestic and wild birds, and to cook poultry products well.”

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