The U.S. is experiencing a record outbreak of bird flu, a virus that is currently deemed a low risk to humans, but has hiked prices of eggs and poultry. The Biden administration is weighing whether to vaccinate poultry against the disease and it appears that the virus can spread among mammals.
|Bird flu spread among minks at a farm in Spain. (Nature photo)|
“The virus is primarily a threat to birds,” Emily Anthes reports for The New York Times, “but infections in mammals increase the odds that the virus could mutate in ways that make it more of a risk to humans, experts say,”
Anthes reports that a new variant of the H5N1 virus has “taken an unusually heavy toll on wild birds and repeatedly spilled over into mammals, such as foxes, raccoons and bears, that might feed on infected birds.”
More recently, it has infected farmed minks, which scientists describe as a “new and troubling development,” pointing to an outbreak in Spain where the virus appeared to spread from mink to mink and had an unusual mutation that might be a sign of adaptation to mammals, Anthes reports, adding that experts say the mink outbreak is no cause for panic, but highlights the need for more proactive surveillance.
Your Local Epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina reports that the risk of bird flu in humans is “currently very low,” citing research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tracked the health of more than 5,190 people who have been exposed to infected birds in 2022 and only one human case was reported. The Times reports “fewer than 10 known cases in people since December 2021, and there have been no documented instances of human-to-human transmission, according to the CDC.”
Federal scientists are gearing up to test the first vaccines in poultry against the bird flu as a way to counter the growing oubreak, Alexander Tin reports for CBS News. The Biden administration has not yet greenlighted the use of these vaccines. Officials told Tin that one of the concerns about issuing these vaccines is that it could make it harder to export American poultry products.
The virus is spread from an infected bird’s nasal secretions, saliva and fecal droppings.
USDA says properly prepared and cooked poultry and eggs should pose no risk to consumers.
“Right now you don’t need to do anything, unless you’re in close contact with birds. A person’s level of risk is dependent on duration and intensity of exposure. In other words, a person with one chicken in their backyard is at much lower risk than someone at a poultry farm,” Jetelina writes. “Those around wild birds, such as at parks, lakes, rivers, or other waterways, need to exercise caution, including wearing PPE, washing hands, and changing clothes. If you have backyard poultry, wear a mask and wash your hands. Also, monitor the health of your flock, especially if they come in contact with other wild birds.”