As the magnitude of the bird flu outbreak in cattle becomes clearer, so does the need to quickly get a firmer grip on some basic facts. Namely, how far this H5N1 virus has spread, how it is spreading and where this situation is likely to go next. The COVID-19-weary public also wants to know whether humans are at risk.

Public agencies must move faster and collaborate more efficiently to answer some of those unknowns. After all, this is a pathogen that has loomed large in the minds of infectious disease experts for its potential to cause a deadly human pandemic.

"It’s fair to say for every question we’ve had answered in the last month, we have 10 to 15 new questions,” says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy in Minnesota.