According to the US Department of Agriculture, a highly contagious bird flu has spread to more than 30 states.
This week alone, the strain, known as H5N1, is likely to kill hundreds of birds in a lake northwest of Chicago and at least three bald eagles in Georgia. Two cases of H5N1 were also found in birds in US zoos.
Since January, the USDA has detected H5N1 among millions of wild birds and domestic and commercial flocks, primarily in the South, Midwest, and East Coast. About 27 million chickens and turkeys have been killed to stop the spread of the virus.
So far, no cases have been reported in people in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the risk to public health is low. Recently a human infection has been documented: a man who raised birds in England became ill. That case, reported in January, was asymptomatic.
But the bird flu outbreak is affecting the lives of consumers in the form of rising egg and poultry prices. The USDA reported Monday that the average weekly price of large eggs is 44 percent higher than last year. Wholesale poultry prices rose 4 percent in February, and the USDA predicts they could climb between 9 and 12 percent in 2022.
‘A close watch on the people working in the poultry centers’
Over time, it is possible that a small number of people may contract the virus. According to the World Health Organization, previous versions of the H5N1 flu infected 864 people between 2003 and 2021. About half of these cases were fatal.
“Sporadic human infection with the current H5N1 bird flu virus would not be surprising, especially among those at risk who are not taking recommended precautions,” the CDC states on its website.
But Andrew Bowman, an associate professor at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, said he would be surprised to see this particular bird flu spread to a large number of people. He said that the ancestors of this virus have been circulating in other parts of the world for some time, and people have been relatively spared.
“The current lineage that we’re seeing isn’t really suitable for moving to mammalian hosts, so that’s very unlikely,” Bowman said.
He said that if a person is infected, pathologists should be able to test them quickly.
“We have a very watchful eye around people working in poultry facilities, especially if they are involved in a herd that becomes infected,” Bowman said.
Still, the COVID pandemic has left some experts hesitant to speculate about the trajectory of bird flu.
“Look at the coronavirus. In the past there were some outbreaks of MERS and SARS and they went nowhere, and then look at what happened,” said Dr. Elizabeth Buckles, associate clinical professor at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. ,
H5N1. History and spread of
The ancestor of the current H5N1 bird flu was first detected in geese in China in 1996. The current set of H5N1 bird flu viruses were identified in Europe in 2020, then were found in North and South Carolina in January.
The recent US outbreak is the worst since 2015, when several bird flu strains, including some H5N1 viruses, spread across the country. About 50 million birds were killed or died. Bowman said the new outbreak appears to be even more geographically widespread.
Experts attribute the spread of H5N1 to the migration of wild birds, which pass on the virus through saliva, mucus and droppings.
The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota recommended in a recent Facebook post that people stop using bird feeders or bird baths to prevent birds from congregating.
But experts said songbirds are not the main driver of the spread.
“There are 10,000 species of birds and (the virus) does not infect all of them equally,” Bowman said. “For the primary transmission, we’re really focusing on waterfowl, especially dabbling ducks.”
Buckles said it’s important to keep chickens and turkeys away from wild birds to prevent the virus from entering our food supply. As a precaution, people should cook poultry and eggs to a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the CDC.
If you have come into contact with a bird, wash your hands, Buckles said.
“Whenever you have animals — I don’t care whether it’s your pet dog or your chicken — you need to practice good hand hygiene,” she said. “We all know how to wash with soap and water for 20 seconds. The same applies to this one.”
The Associated Press Contribution,