It's like a script for a disaster movie that everyone has already seen.
Europe is going through the most devastating bird flu epidemic in its history, with more than 50 million poultry slaughtered in one year.
At the beginning of autumn, seagulls and gannets killed by this virus appeared on the Galician beaches.
Days later, at the beginning of October, American mink began to die with hemorrhagic pneumonia on a fur farm in Carral, a few minutes' drive from A Coruña.
Mortality in this outbreak exceeded 4% in a single week.
A scientific study now suggests that the avian flu virus jumped from wild birds to mink and mutated on the farm, beginning to spread from mammal to mammal, failing to infect mask-wearing farm workers.
The Galician outbreak has set off alarm bells across the planet.
The Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans, who traced the origin of the covid pandemic for the World Health Organization (WHO), has issued a warning on her social networks: "We are playing with fire."
Mink are susceptible to both bird flu and human flu, so these animals can act as "a shaker" in which viruses mix and more lethal versions emerge, the study, led by Montserrat, warns. Agüero, from the Central Veterinary Laboratory of the Ministry of Agriculture, and his Italian colleague Isabella Monne, from the Experimental Zooprophylactic Institute of Las Venecias.
The protagonist of the Galician outbreak is a highly pathogenic avian influenza A (H5N1) virus, with an unusual mutation called T271A, a disturbing characteristic that was already present in the swine flu virus that caused a pandemic in humans in 2009. The health authorities of the Xunta de Galicia decided on October 18 to immediately kill the 52,000 mink on the farm,
Virologists' worst nightmare is the leap to humans of a deadly flu virus.
The World Health Organization already warned in 2019, before the covid, that "the world is not prepared for a pandemic of virulent and rapidly transmitted respiratory pathogens."
The institution then warned that a pandemic such as the 1918 flu could kill 80 million people today, "causing panic, destabilizing national security and seriously affecting the economy and trade."
It's quite scary.
We have never had such a big scare in Europe
Elisa Pérez, virologist
The virologist Elisa Pérez, an expert in emerging viruses at the Animal Health Research Center, is very concerned.
“It's pretty scary.
In Europe there had never been such an outbreak in mink, there were only a few cases described in China.
We had never had such a big scare, ”she warns.
Pérez calls for the closure of all mink farms as soon as possible.
“What else has to happen?” she wonders.
Before the covid pandemic, there were some 2,900 fur farms in the European Union, producing 27 million mink pelts each year, according to official industry figures.
After the outbreaks of the new coronavirus in hundreds of farms in 2020, some countries, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, decreed massive closures.
A report by European authorities estimated that there were 755 mink farms remaining active at the start of 2021, mainly in Finland, Poland, Lithuania and Greece.
In Spain, that crisis caused some security measures to be implemented, such as the imposition of mandatory masks for workers.
One of the minks from a Dutch farm where covid cases were recorded.
Bird flu spreads around the world.
The virus has already settled in South America, a team of scientists from Argentina and Peru warned last week.
On the Peruvian coasts, 22,000 wild birds died in just one month, especially pelicans and boobies.
On the 9th, a nine-year-old girl from a village in Bolívar (Ecuador), admitted to the ICU after being in contact with chickens, became the first human case of highly pathogenic avian influenza in Latin America.
The World Health Organization warned Wednesday that the diversity of flu viruses that are jumping from animals to people is "alarming."
In Spain last year there were 37 outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in poultry, the last two in a farm with 150,000 laying hens in Guadalajara and in another with 1,500 geese in La Cistérniga (Valladolid), according to the count of the Ministry of Agriculture. .
Two workers at the Guadalajara farm became infected with the virus, without developing symptoms.
In the Carral outbreak, the 11 employees who were in contact with the minks remained in isolation for 10 days, despite having tested negative for avian flu.
The virus is easily transmitted between birds, but only rarely does it pass from bird to human.
Between people it has not yet managed to jump effectively, although the outbreak in mink in A Coruña suggests that the virus is capable of mutating and adapting rapidly to jumping from mammal to mammal.
The Ministry of Health has called for "extreme precautionary measures" for people who have poultry, although the European health authorities continue to consider that the risk of contagion in the general population is "low".
The British doctor Jeremy Farrar, an expert in emerging diseases and recently appointed scientific director of the WHO, has also alerted the outbreak in Spain on his social networks.
"The greatest risk for a devastating influenza pandemic is that an avian or other animal influenza virus infects an intermediate mammal and evolves, transmitting between mammals and between humans, who would have little or no immunity," he said. .
Farrar, who was already correct in alerting of strange pneumonia in the Chinese city of Wuhan on December 31, 2019, urges preparation of vaccines and treatments for each type of animal flu.
Epidemiologist Matthew Baylis, former director of the Liverpool Pandemic Institute, has also reacted to the analysis of the Galician outbreak.
“Two years ago I wrote about the risks of mink farming for covid.
And now we see even greater risks for bird flu, as mink offer a wonderful opportunity for the virus to adapt to mammals.
That's where the next pandemic can come from," warned Baylis, from the University of Liverpool.
“Is anyone heeding the warning sign?
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