Former CDC Director Predicts Bird Flu Virus Will Cause Next Pandemic

Former CDC Director Predicts Bird Flu Virus Will Cause Next Pandemic

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies during a U.S. Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, on July 2, 2020. (Saul Loeb/Pool/Getty Images)

Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek

6/16/2024

Updated: 6/27/2024

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Dr. Robert Redfield, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has issued a grim prediction that the next major pandemic will be caused by the bird flu.
“I really do think it’s very likely that we will, at some time—it’s not a question of if, it’s more a question of when—we will have a bird flu pandemic,” Dr. Redfield told NewsNation in an interview published on June 14.
U.S. officials recently confirmed that the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus had been detected in a cow herd in Wyoming, the 12th state to report an infection.
The former CDC director said the bird flu, when it enters humans, has a “significant” mortality.
“Probably somewhere between 25 and 50 percent mortality, so it’s going to be quite complicated,” Dr. Redfield said.
Since around 2019, there’s been a progressive increase in the number of mammal species to which the bird flu virus has spread, with alpacas becoming the latest species to fall sick after coming into contact with the pathogen, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
Dr. Redfield said that as the bird flu has spread to more than two dozen mammals in the United States, the virus has been adapting and learning how to change its use of receptors, with the risk of making a jump to humans growing by the day.
“So it’s going through a lot of changes. And as it picks up some of these new receptors, it can get closer and closer to humans,” he 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. And as I said, I think it’s just a matter of time.”
While Dr. Redfield said it’s impossible to predict with accuracy when the bird flu might start going human to human, he said the recent development of dairy cattle contracting the virus is alarming because cows are often in close proximity to pigs, and pigs have tended to be the last stepping stone for viruses before the jump to humans.
Dr. Redfield added that the natural evolution of the virus to where it becomes highly infectious to humans is less of a concern to him than the possibility that it will increase its virulence under lab conditions—through gain-of-function research.
The “recipe” for making bird flu highly infectious to humans is already well established, Dr. Redfield said, recalling that gain-of-function research on the avian influenza virus was carried out in 2012, against his recommendations.
Since late March, the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus has been reported in more than 80 dairy herds across the country. So far, three human infections have been reported in the United States—two in Michigan and one in Texas, all dairy farm workers.
The CDC said in a June 12 bird flu update that it’s monitoring the situation closely and the current risk to public health remains low.

“H5N1 bird flu is widespread in wild birds worldwide and is causing outbreaks in poultry and U.S. dairy cows, with one recent human case in a U.S. dairy worker,” the agency said.

“While the current public health risk is low, CDC is watching the situation carefully and working with states to monitor people with animal exposures. CDC is using its flu surveillance systems to monitor for H5N1 activity in people.”

Bird Flu Gain-of-Function Research?

Dr. Redfield has in the past warned about the dangers of gain-of-function research, which involves altering the properties of a pathogen, such as its virulence, in order to study its potential effects on human health.
Proponents of such research argue it can help scientists better learn how the virus behaves and spreads, and come up with counter-measures more effectively. Opponents say the potential benefits are outweighed by the risks that such research poses as it can makes viruses more lethal to humans.
During a March 8, 2023, session of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, Dr. Redfield called for a moratorium on this type of research, while expressing the view that the COVID-19 pandemic was caused by an accidental leak from a China-based lab where the virus was being subjected to experiments.
“While many believe that gain-of function research is critical to get ahead of viruses by developing vaccines, in this case, I believe it had the exact opposite result, unleashing a new virus on the world without any means of stopping it and resulting in the deaths of millions of people,” Dr. Redfield said at the time, referring to COVID-19.
“Because of this, it is my opinion that we should call for a moratorium on all gain-of function research until we can have a broader debate and come to a consensus as a community about the value of gain-of-function research.”
Dr. Redfield has also said that taxpayers ended up unknowingly funding risky gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the China-based lab at the center of the lab-leak origin theory of the virus that causes COVID-19.
Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration is preparing for a scenario in which the bird flu starts to spread among humans.
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Tom Ozimek is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times. He has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education.

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