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Addressing the Risk of Bird Flu (H5N1): Lessons for the US from Finland’s Response

Bird flu, or H5N1, poses a significant threat to public health and the economy. Recent outbreaks in the United States highlight gaps in our response and coordination. To protect people, and animals, and restore trust in public health, we must improve our response strategies. Finland’s effective handling of H5N1 provides a valuable blueprint for the US to follow.

The Current State of Bird Flu (H5N1) in the US

The Current State of H5N1 in the US

H5N1 has been circulating among animals in the US, with three human cases reported and clusters in cattle herds across multiple states. Despite these warnings, our response has been sluggish, reflecting risky gaps in coordination and trust.

Finland’s Effective Response to H5N1

Finland’s Effective Response to H5N1

Finland’s success in managing H5N1 provides critical lessons for the US. Here are three key strategies Finland employed:

1. Rapid Response

Finland’s quick action was crucial in containing H5N1. Within 24 hours of the first case being reported on a mink farm, the Finnish Food Authority confirmed the presence of the virus. Specialists from human and animal health sectors collaborated to track infections, including testing at-risk workers. In contrast, the US response to H5N1 in cattle took approximately 100 days from detection to initial response. Adopting the 7-1-7 target—seven days to detect an outbreak, one day to notify authorities, and seven days to complete the initial response—can help the US halt outbreaks before they spread.

2. Building Trust

Trust between farmers and the Finnish Food Authority was instrumental in their rapid response. Farmers promptly notified authorities about unusual symptoms in animals, and were reimbursed for culling infected animals, reinforcing trust. Finland’s proactive approach extends to vaccinating frontline workers against H5N1, making it the first country to do so. In the US, trust in government is lower, particularly among rural communities. While the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has taken steps to support farms, including payments for veterinary expenses and personal protective equipment, more needs to be done to protect the agricultural sector and build trust.

3. Coordinated Government Response

In Finland, human health and agriculture officials coordinated closely, ensuring an effective response. This collaboration enhanced detection, industry cooperation, and worker protection. New legislation provided the authority to implement control measures. The US has faced challenges due to varied priorities and legal frameworks among multiple agencies such as the USDA, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Improved coordination and community-specific directives are essential for a practical response.

Steps Forward for the US

To effectively combat H5N1 and similar threats, the US must:

To effectively combat H5N1 and similar threats, the US must:

  1. Enhance Coordination: Federal agencies (CDC, USDA, FDA) and state counterparts must share information transparently and in real time. Localities, states, and national authorities need to work collaboratively.
  2. Increase Resources: Congress should allocate resources for systems, workforce, and infrastructure to prevent and respond to pandemics. This includes supporting early detection and swift action to stop outbreaks before they escalate.
  3. Build Relationships: Establish strong relationships with farm owners and workers by addressing their needs and concerns. Responsive communication will help build trust and ensure compliance with public health measures.


The US can learn valuable lessons from Finland’s response to H5N1. Rapid detection, building trust, and coordinated government action are crucial in managing public health threats. By improving our response strategies and enhancing coordination, we can protect our population and economy from future outbreaks.