Sunday, June 4

Bird Flu Continues To Spread, Avian Influenza Outbreak In Long Island, New York

Farmers and other bird owners in the U.S. have been dealing with a fowl problem: the continuing spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). Over the past month, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has already confirmed the detection of HPAI in multiple locations across several different states, most recently in a backyard flock in Suffolk County, New York. This clearly isn’t an eggs-ellent situation for any winged friends that you may have and could result in higher poultry and egg prices. But it doesn’t mean that you or any of your non-winged friends should panic.

Clearly, anything dubbed “highly pathogenic” would be worse than something that’s merely “sort of pathogenic” or “highly not a problem at all.” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “pathogenic” means “causing or capable of causing disease.” So, for example, if your date finds you “highly pathogenic,” don’t expect a second date. Similarly, putting the words together, “highly pathogenic avian influenza” would be a bird flu virus that’s highly capable of causing disease. Such viruses do have the potential of jumping to humans. However, so far, the HPAI that’s been spreading in the U.S. has been exclusively a chick-flick and a turkey-flick and other bird-flick. Apparently, it hasn’t infected any humans.

The new New York appearance of HPAI is the latest in an “oh cluck” saga that’s been going on throughout this Winter. Back in November 2021, I covered for Forbes various avian influenza outbreaks that were occurring in Europe and Asia. This led to some more drastic measures such as culling and poultry lock downs. Of course, as seen with other infectious diseases, what happens in other countries doesn’t necessarily stay in other countries. With many birds making trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific flights, it wouldn’t be too difficult for Europe and Asia to give the U.S. the bird, the bird flu that is.

Therefore it wasn’t too surprising when the USDA APHIS issued a press release on January 18, 2022, describing how H5N1 HPAI had been detected in wild birds in Colleton County, South Carolina, and Hyde County, North Carolina. Then on February 9, the USDA APHIS talked turkey after HPAI had been found in a commercial turkey flock in Dubois County, Indiana. This was the first appearance of HPAI in a U.S. commercial flock since 2020.

In response to these findings, the USDA APHIS indicated on February 11 that they were expanding avian influenza surveillance of wild birds traveling across the Atlantic and Pacific Flyways and adding those traversing the Mississippi and Central Flyways.

Three days later, it became clear that the bird flu had crossed the road into even more states. On Valentine’s Day, the USDA APHIS made the not so loving announcement that HPAI had been found in a flock of commercial broiler chickens in Fulton County, Kentucky, and a backyard flock of mixed species birds in Fauquier County, Virginia. This put farms across the U.S., especially in neighboring states like Ohio, on high alert as this WBNS 10TV news segment reported:

All of this brought us to the latest detected outbreak in Long Island, New York. The outbreak has resulted in eight birds being isolated, as you can see in the following CBS New York news segment:

Now, if all of this news is causing you to flap your wings in panic, then you may actually be a bird and may want to see a doctor. Humans typically don’t have feathered wings. Plus, birds can be infected with HPAI A(H5) viruses without showing any symptoms while spreading it to others. Such viruses can make birds, especially domestic poultry, very sick and even kill them, because again that’s what “highly pathogenic” means.

If you have confirmed in the mirror that you are indeed human based on the lack of feathers, then there’s probably no reason to panic. Panicking is rarely a good thing to do. Moreover, unless you hang out with poultry, your risk of getting HPAI at this point is quite low. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has emphasized on their website that “the detection of these viruses in poultry does not change the risk to the general public’s health, which CDC considers to be low.” So far, there is no indication that this HPAI can jump to humans. In fact, since 2002, only four humans have had bird flu infections. And all of these have been with low pathogenic avian influenza A viruses.

Not surprisingly, some anonymous social media accounts have already been claiming that this HPAI situation is part of some kind of conspiracy or using it to attack Covid-19 precautions. For example, here’s how one such account responded to a Covid-19 coronavirus-related tweet by New York Governor Kathy Hochul:

Dude, if you’re going to pretend to be a real person, you’ve got to try harder than calling yourself “Name goes here.” And no, the spread of the bird flu in the U.S. doesn’t mean that lockdowns will be occurring soon. Again, the CDC has clearly said that the HPAI currently poses low risk to the general public.

This doesn’t mean that you should simply wing it when dealing with birds and bird products though. Make sure that you wash your hands frequently and thoroughly whenever handling any birds, meaning animals that have wings and feathers. Clean or disinfect anything that may have touched birds, including cages, feeders, and little top hats. be eggs-tra careful with anything that may have come out of birds as well. Before eating any poultry products or eggs, make sure that your heat them to an internal temperature of at least 165˚F to kill potentially bad bacteria and viruses. This would not be the time to try a new chicken tartare-only diet.

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