Everything we know about bird flu

With outbreaks of bird flu among flocks in the United States devastating farmers and the poultry industrythe United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that people who live or work with animals should be extra careful as the country approaches a record number of sick birds.

Since the beginning of 2022, when the epidemic began, more than 49 million birds in almost every state (46) have either died because they were infected with bird flu or have been culled (killed) because that they could have been exposed or infected, the CDC said in a Nov. 3 announcement. In 2015, a record 50.5 million birds died in an outbreak in 21 states.

Although the health risk to the general public remains low, people who work with birds or live with them as pets should take extra precautions to “avoid unprotected contact” with birds that appear ill. This includes wearing personal protective equipment like rubber boots and a face shield if working with them, and washing your clothes and hands after handling birds.

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, bird flu in humans has so far been rare (the current outbreak is limited to one human case in the United States), in part because the virus does not spread as easily from animals to humans, or between humans. This is why the risk of bird flu is considered higher for people who work directly with birds, such as poultry workers or even hunters.

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. . And limiting human exposure to bird flu decreases the ability of the virus to spread from person to person, which would pose a greater threat to public health.

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

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 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 US Department of Agriculture 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.

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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. The Colorado man who contracted bird flu this year said fatigue was his only symptom, and he has recovered.

But because of the serious health threat potential, the WHO, CDC and US Department of Agriculture 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.

Signals that bird flu is becoming a bigger public health risk include multiple reports of H5N1 virus infections in people exposed to birds or spreading between people, the CDC has previously said.

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.

A poultry worker wearing protective gear holds a chicken.

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How do we catch it? What precautions should you take if you are near birds?

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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