PHC is presently tracking and providing guidance on two key diseases that have infected very few humans and had very little enterprise impact to date. Why, then, are we tracking these diseases with great interest?
Because both have potential for major human health and enterprise reverberations – just not yet.
The first concern is the spread of H5N1 influenza, aka “bird flu,” in birds and mammals around the world. The second is the recently-confirmed outbreak of Marburg virus in Equatorial Guinea.
To many infectious disease physicians and epidemiologists, influenza viruses top the list of concerning germs. They cause such concern because of what they’ve done to humans in the past, like the millions of deaths during the 1918 influenza pandemic. Also, these viruses change and mutate rapidly, which leads to new versions of the virus appearing on a regular basis–versions human immune systems are ill-equipped to handle.
The H5N1 influenza virus, so far, requires close bird contact to create human infections, and only one known human case has arisen in the U.S. To date, enterprise effects have been limited mostly to egg and poultry producers.
PHC is concerned because the spread of H5N1 globally in domesticated birds, wild birds and a number of mammal species over the past several years is increasing. As the virus infects more animals, it has more opportunities to change into a form that can spread widely and rapidly in humans. In other words, the potential for widespread impact on human health and enterprise companies is also increasing.
The fact that the virus is now transmitted between mammals, like mink in Spain, means the potential for it to infect humans (also mammals) is greater than previously believed. Indeed, ferrets, animals similar to mink, have proven to be good models for human susceptibility to previous influenza viruses.
Based on available evidence, just a few key changes in the genetic material within H5N1 could enable human-to-human spread. We are providing intelligence and guidance to our customers in real time on this virus so they can protect staff and enterprise interests as H5N1 evolves.
The Marburg virus, the second disease that we are tracking, was confirmed as the cause of a hemorrhagic fever outbreak in Equatorial Guinea on Feb. 13, 2023. Nine deaths and 16 additional cases are suspected. PHC first posted information for customers on the potential significance of this outbreak on Feb. 10, prior to knowing the germ driving it.
This virus is very similar to Ebola, with high mortality and easy transmission when one person contacts the infected fluids of another. There is no vaccine for Marburg.
Although the outbreak presently carries low immediate risk to enterprise as it is far from large cities, it creates potential for significant enterprise disruption should it spread regionally in Central Africa or should cases arise sporadically in different regions or countries due to travel, as has happened in prior Ebola outbreaks.
PHC does not believe Marburg will cause a pandemic, but given the measures required to contain it, the significant regional health impact it could create, the fear it spawns, and the potential for travel-related cases arising remotely, the likelihood of notable business disruption is much greater than that of widespread human disease.
The two examples above illustrate the increasingly frequent challenges enterprise faces dealing with infectious agents, as well as other biorisks like heat, floods, and air quality problems. These challenges have many causes, including population growth, human-animal interface expansion, climate change, antibiotic resistance and others.
PHC helps organizations prepare for such looming biorisks and positions customers to be ahead of the curve in protecting staff, supply chains, and enterprise interests.