Since a case of highly pathogenic bird flu was confirmed in a South Carolina duck earlier this year, millions of birds have died in what has been the deadliest bird flu outbreak in the United States. since the 2014-15 outbreak.
Despite the damage suffered by the, bird flu poses a low risk to public health, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So far, according to the CDC, the current bird flu virus lacks the necessary mutations to easily spread to people, and it may also lack the changes that have caused serious illness in people in the past.
But in recent years, those rare human cases of bird flu (which mostly involved people working directly with birds) killed more than half of the people who had reported infections. Given the potential threat to public health, although it remains low, the CDC and USDA monitor outbreaks in bird flocks and have guidance on how to interact with birds and protect themselves.
Here’s what you need to know.
What is bird flu?
Avian influenza, or avian influenza, is the 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 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.
The predominant bird flu virus in the world is H5N1, according to the CDC.
The World Health Organization reports four types of influenza viruses: A, B, C and D. But type A viruses, which occur both in humans and in different types of animals, constitute the most great threat to public health, 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.
Is bird flu deadly?
More than 800 human cases of bird flu have been reported to the WHO since 2003, according to a Feb. 18 report from the agency. Although human cases of bird flu have remained rare, more than half of those infected with the virus have died.
Due to the serious health threat, the WHO, CDC, and United States Department of Agriculture are closely monitoring outbreaks in the United States and other countries. But, the WHO noted in its February report, recent cases of bird flu do not appear to pose a greater threat to public health this year than in previous years.
Where is the bird flu in the United States? How is it controlled?
Avian influenza has been detected and reported by the USDA in wild and domestic birds in approximately half of the US states. Most outbreaks in bird flocks have occurred on the East Coast and in the Midwest.
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 poultry farms (i.e. not part of a commercial poultry farm) as well as some poultry farms, where animals are raised for food. Not all birds in flocks that have bird flu cases will enter the food system, the USDA said.
“Wild bird surveillance provides an early warning system for the introduction and distribution of avian influenza viruses of concern in the United States,” according to the agency. To monitor outbreaks, the USDA said it is taking samples from 25 different states, coordinating with state departments of wildlife or natural resources and more.
How do you catch bird flu?
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.
As long as humans eat birds and other animal products, as well as live and work among them, there could be a risk of viruses jumping from one species to another. And the threat of bird flu causing an epidemic in humans is not new in 2022.
But with careful monitoring and attention to public health, the hope is that we will avoid another pandemic with great loss of life.
The CDC said it had “produced a candidate vaccine virus,” if needed, in response to a potential public health threat.
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.