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Experts Concerned to See Repeat of COVID type Negligence, CDC has 1 Million Bird Flu Tests Ready

Bird Flu

It has been nearly three months since the U.S. government declared an outbreak of bird flu virus on dairy farms. The World Health Organization classifies this virus as a significant public health threat due to its potential to trigger a pandemic. Despite these concerns, the U.S. has conducted tests on only about 45 individuals nationwide.

“We’re essentially operating in the dark,” remarked Jennifer Nuzzo, director of the Pandemic Center at Brown University School of Public Health. She emphasized that with such limited testing, it’s impossible to determine the extent of infection among farmworkers or the severity of the disease. This lack of testing also means that the country might miss early signs of the virus spreading among people — a critical precursor to a potential pandemic.

“We would like to see more testing happening. There’s no question about that,” acknowledged Nirav Shah, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Currently, the CDC’s bird flu test is the only one authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use. Shah noted that approximately one million tests are available now, with another 1.2 million expected in the next two months, distributed to about 100 public health labs across states.

However, concerns persist among researchers like Nuzzo because most doctors typically order tests from major clinical laboratories operated by companies and universities, which lack authorization for bird flu testing. As the outbreak expands — affecting at least 114 herds in 12 states as of June 18 — researchers argue that the CDC and FDA are not moving swiftly enough to remove obstacles preventing clinical labs from conducting tests. For instance, Neelyx Labs, a diagnostics company, experienced delays of more than a month with their testing inquiry.

“Clinical labs are integral to the nation’s public health response,” asserted Alex Greninger, assistant director of the University of Washington Medicine Clinical Virology Laboratory. “We need to be actively involved in this effort. Right now, we’re sidelined.”

The CDC acknowledged the necessity of involving clinical labs in a June 10 memo, urging the industry to develop tests specifically for the H5 strain of bird flu virus circulating among dairy cattle. “The limited availability and accessibility of diagnostic tests for Influenza A(H5) present several challenges,” the CDC stated, highlighting potential shortages if demand surges.

Reflecting on past testing challenges with COVID-19, researchers such as former CDC director Tom Frieden and Anthony Fauci underscored how broader access to tests early in 2020 could have enabled the U.S. to detect cases sooner, potentially averting widespread outbreaks that led to business closures and loss of life.

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