Everything we know about bird flu

Everything we know about bird flu

Everything we know about bird flu

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What started in early 2022 has turned into a persistent and increasingly worrying bird flu epidemic. Avian flu has affected at least 58 million birds and sent the price of eggs is skyrocketing, although scientists are monitoring its spread in other species as well. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains that the public health threat remains low, meaning people who do not work or spend time with birds are not at risk. Those who work around birds, including poultry workers and hunters, should take precautions, including wearing gloves and protective gear.

Now, amid fears the virus is starting to spread among people and as it continues to devastate farms across the country, US government officials are considering vaccinating poultry, according to a report released earlier this this month by the New York Times. A mass bird flu vaccination campaign targeting poultry would be a first in the United States, reports the Times, but some testing of potential vaccines for poultry is underway.

“There are a range of options that the United States routinely considers in the event of an outbreak that could affect the safety and security of the United States food supply,” a National Security Council spokesperson said. at CNET. “Right now, we are focused on promoting and improving high-impact biosecurity practices and procedures.”

As long as animals and humans live, work and congregate around each other, there is a risk that viruses will mutate enough to jump from species to species. Fortunately, so far, bird flu in humans has been rare, in part because the virus doesn’t spread as easily from animals to humans, or between humans. Recently, two family members contracted bird flu in Cambodia, and one of them died. The CDC said in a memo in early March that both of these cases likely resulted from bird-human contact near the shared household, and there was no evidence of human-to-human spread at this time. There has also been a human case in the United States, in someone who has had direct contact with birds. (This U.S. case could also be the result of the virus contaminating the nasal passages, rather than causing an actual infection.)

Still, some “sporadic” human cases of bird flu in the United States “would not be surprising,” given the number of sick birds as well as infections in people from other countries who have been exposed to bird flu, the CDC said. in a November statement. But the fact that bird flu continues to spread widely and expose more species to the virus – including mammals – leaves the door open for the virus to adapt and spread from human to human. If, or when, bird flu starts spreading from person to person, it will cause problems, according to Dr Meg Schaeffer, epidemiologist and national public health adviser for SAS Institute, a data analytics company. .

“The worrying factors are that it continues to spread – so that’s a problem because the more activity you have, the more likely the virus is to spread from animals to humans,” said Schaeffer, who works to modernize public health data. , including some work with the CDC and the US Department of Agriculture. Even more troublesome, she says, is that scientists may not be able to catch it quickly if it spreads outside where bird flu is currently being monitored, in people reacting to poultry. sick, which means:

“It’s likely to start happening before we know it.”

Here’s what you need to know about bird flu or bird flu.

What is bird flu?

Avian influenza, or bird flu, is a disease caused by infection with type A influenza viruses. These viruses can circulate among birds worldwide and have infected humans in rare cases, mainly those who work directly with infected birds. If viruses mutate enough, the public health fear is that they could make the leap to spread among humans. Avian flu was first detected and controlled in 1997, but reappeared in 2003 and began to spread widely among birds.

The predominant bird flu virus in the world is H5N1, according to the CDC. Since 2003, more than 880 human cases of earlier strains of H5N1 have been reported in humans.

The influenza viruses that cause avian influenza are either “low pathogenic” or “highly pathogenic”. Highly pathogenic avian influenza can cause serious illness or death in poultry, and these are the cases the USDA reports. Both low and high pathogenic viruses have caused mild to severe illness in infected humans.

The World Health Organization reports four types of influenza viruses: A, B, C and D. Type A viruses, which occur both in humans and in different types of animals, constitute the largest threat to public health and can cause pandemics, according to the WHO. The 2009 pandemic “swine flu” was caused by a type A virus. Seasonal influenza viruses in humans are caused by both type A and type B viruses.

Getty Images

Is it deadly?

Although human cases remain rare, about half of previous human H5N1 infections have resulted in death, the CDC said. But as the agency noted in its April statement on the human bird flu case, the current H5N1 appears different from earlier strains.

But due to the potential for a serious health threat, the WHO, CDC and USDA closely monitor outbreaks in the United States and other countries. The CDC said it had “produced a candidate vaccine virus,” if needed, in response to a potential public health threat.

Where in the USA is it? How is it controlled?

Bird flu has been detected and reported by the USDA in wild and domestic birds in most US states – 46, as of the CDC’s announcement in early November.

Pittsburgh biochemist Henry Niman has been tracking the outbreak (as reported by The New York Times), and his map offers a visual representation of the outbreak across the country.

The first case involved a wild bird in South Carolina. Other cases have been reported in some backyard flocks as well as some poultry farms, where animals are raised commercially for food. Not all birds in flocks that have bird flu cases will enter the food system, the USDA said.

Karen Moskowitz/Getty Images

Can people catch bird flu? Here are the precautions to take

Birds can shed the bird flu virus in their saliva, feces and mucus, according to the CDC. Humans can get sick by breathing in the virus or touching their eyes, nose or mouth. Most human cases of bird flu have been reported in people working directly with birds.

To avoid getting sick, avoid contact with wild birds, don’t touch dead or sick birds you see, and avoid visiting bird markets or farms if you’re traveling to another country, according to the CDC.

Additional precautions or supervision may apply if you work directly with birds, hunt birds, or are a healthcare worker. If you come into contact with an infected bird, contact your local or state health department. Here is a directory of local health departments in the United States.

To avoid contamination from poultry of any kind, be sure to handle your poultry and eggs properly and cook them thoroughly at 165 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the USDA, to kill bacteria and viruses.

You can also report a dead bird to your local health department or wildlife agency, which will help public health officials track not only bird flu, but also viruses such as West Nile virus. Reporting dead birds can be especially important if you see more than one.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.


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