Former CDC director predicts bird flu pandemic

June 15, 2024

Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield said he predicts a bird flu pandemic will happen, it’s just a matter of when that will be.

Redfield joined NewsNation Friday to discuss the growing concern for bird flu, as the virus has been detected in dozens of cattle across the country and the World Health Organization identified the first human death in Mexico.

“I really do think it’s very likely that we will, at some time, it’s not a question of if, it’s more of a question of when we will have a bird flu pandemic,” Redfield said.

He also noted that bird flu has a “significant mortality” when it enters humans compared to COVID-19. Redfield predicts the mortality is “probably somewhere between 25 and 50 percent mortality.” NewsNation noted that the death rate for COVID was 0.6 percent.

At the end of May, the CDC identified the third human case of someone diagnosed with the virus since March. None of the three cases among farmworkers were associated with one another. Symptoms have included a cough without fever and pink eye.

There is no evidence yet that the virus is spreading between humans. Redfield said he knows exactly what has to happen for the virus to get to that point because he’s done lab research on it.

Scientists have found that five amino acids must change in the key receptor in order for bird flu to gain a propensity to bind to a human receptor “and then be able to go human to human” like COVID-19 did, Redfield said.

“Once the virus gains the ability to attach to the human receptor and then go human to human, that’s when you’re going to have the pandemic,” he said. “And as I said, I think it’s just a matter of time.”

Redfield noted that he doesn’t know how long it will take for the five amino acids to change, but since it is being detected in cattle herds across the country, he is a bit concerned.

More than 40 cattle herds nationwide have confirmed cases of the virus. The CDC is tracking wastewater treatment sites to pinpoint where the virus is but the agency said the general public’s current risk of contracting the virus is low.

Since cattle live close to pigs and the virus is able to evolve from pigs to humans, there is cause for concern. Still, he argued, there is greater risk for the disease to be lab-grown.

“I know exactly what amino acids I have to change because in 2012, against my recommendation, the scientists that did these experiments actually published them,” he said. “So, the recipe for how to make bird flu highly infection for humans is already out there.”

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