The threat of bird flu threatens to become serious because the response remains inadequate

As an outbreak of bird flu continues to spread across U.S. livestock herds, experts warn that the threat posed by this deadly virus remains underappreciated. In an editorial published by CNN, respected public health leader Dr. Tom Frieden raises concerns that US authorities have been too slow to curb the spread of the H5N1 bird flu, which is now affecting livestock in more than half of US states.

According to Frieden, who led the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for eight years, neighboring Finland provides an example of how rapid and coordinated interventions can successfully stop the transmission of bird flu before it endangers human lives. Within days of the virus being discovered in mink, Finnish officials identified the full extent of the infection, compensated affected farms and protected workers at risk – eradicating the outbreak before it could manifest.

In contrast, the US response appears to have lagged by more than three months compared to the virus’s first appearance in cattle herds. Comprehensive testing and case tracking remain lacking, undermining efforts to understand the true extent of the national outbreak. Dr. Frieden said stronger collaboration is needed between public and animal health agencies at all levels of government to enable open data sharing and clear public communication.

With summer approaching and migratory bird patterns shifting the number of infections, the window to stop the spread of bird flu is closing. Without rebuilding the damaged trust between officials and at-risk farming communities, and providing local authorities with the resources they need, America risks facing a much larger epidemic in the fall. By learning from the Finnish example of rapid, coordinated prevention, we can still hope to prevent the most serious consequences of this ongoing health threat. Our agricultural sector and population will remain at risk until every branch of government makes responding to bird flu a top priority.

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