In its latest technical briefing on avian influenza (bird flu), the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) states that the disease still poses little threat to humans

However, it said it will remain vigilant as “viruses constantly evolve”.

The health agency said its health protection teams monitored 2,310 people who had been in contact with infected birds between the period of October 1, 2022, and February 14, 2023. In that period, no positive cases were detected.

Samples were taken from individuals who presented with cold or flu-like symptoms during their monitoring period, which lasted 21 days after their contact with an infected bird.

While high levels of transmission in wild birds present a constant risk, the UKHSA said, there is no evidence so far that the virus is “getting better at infecting humans or other mammals“.

However, incident director for bird flu at UKHSA Dr. Meera Chand said the agency will monitor the situation closely as viruses are constantly evolving.

“The latest evidence suggests that the avian influenza viruses we’re seeing circulating in birds do not currently spread easily to people,” she said.

“However, viruses constantly evolve, and we remain vigilant for any evidence of changing risk to the population, as well as working with partners to address gaps in the scientific evidence.”

High levels in birds

The UKHSA warned that, although evidence suggests that the virus does not pass easily to people, there is an increased chance of people coming into contact with the virus due to the high levels in birds.

Steps the agency outlined that people can take to reduce their exposure to bird flu in wild birds include avoiding contact with sick or dead wild birds in public areas such as parks or waterways and washing their hands after feeding wild birds.

The UKHSA said it is currently working with partners to identify “knowledge gaps” around the disease.

These include whether lateral flow devices could be deployed to test for H5N1 in humans, developing a blood test that detects antibodies against the virus and analysis of the genetic mutations that would signal an increased risk to human health.