Just when you thought that all those crazy diseases out there were finally going away, guess what: A new one may be emerging. This time it’s bird flu.
As the name suggests, bird flu is a virus that infects poultry and is usually transmitted from one sick bird to a healthy one. At times, however, it has been transmitted to humans. People who contract it may experience coughing, fever, sore throat, aches and pains, headache and/or shortness of breath -- symptoms typical of the common flu.
Bird flu is of concern for several reasons. For one, flocks that are infected need to be destroyed, which causes an immediate loss to poultry farmers. Also, if outbreaks occur on a wide-enough scale, shortages of poultry and eggs could develop, leading to higher prices or even shortages.
Much more significant, however, is if the virus mutates and is transmitted to humans; when this has occurred in the past, the mortality rate has been very high. Fortunately, there is no evidence of this happening now.
According to the US Dept. of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), a “highly pathogenic” strain of bird flu appears to be spreading across the US. This means the strain can cause contagious and severe illness among poultry and sometimes wild birds, and often death.
The latest outbreak was reported in a small flock in a backyard in Suffolk County on Long Island. State officials immediately quarantined the affected area and the birds there were culled to prevent spread of the disease.
But this was not the only recent outbreak in the US. Bird flu was also confirmed in Maine. On Feb. 9 it was discovered in four commercial poultry farms in Southern Indiana, and as a result 29,000 turkeys had to be killed to prevent the spread of the virus.
In addition, it was found in wild birds in both North and South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Delaware, Kentucky, and Florida. It has also been discovered in various parts of Europe and Asia, in wild birds in Canada, and more recently in a commercial flock in Canada.
Poultry farmers are keeping a close watch on developments because if even one case turns up an entire flock may have to be destroyed; according to press reports, some farmers have begun culling their flocks.
“It’s definitely considered a period of high risk now that we have a confirmed case of highly pathogenic avian influenza in the commercial poultry industry,” Dr. Denise Heard, a poultry veterinarian and vice president of research for the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, told NBC News.
If, chas v’shalom, bird flu spreads despite all preventative measures being taken, it will not be the first time the US will have to contend with this. A widespread outbreak in 2014-2015 led to the deaths of over 50 million chickens and turkeys in 15 states, cost the federal government nearly $1 billion for removal and disposal of the infected birds, and resulted in more than $3.3 billion in other damages.
“It also caused egg and turkey prices across the country to soar for months,” NBC News reports, “with the cost of eggs up 61 percent at one point and prices for boneless, skinless turkey breasts rising 75 percent between May and July 2015.” That outbreak is considered the costliest animal disaster in US history.
The Worst Case
Obviously, if bird flu spreads in poultry farms, the cost could be very high, but by far the worst-case scenario is if the virus spreads to humans. Here’s how one expert explains the situation.
“An increase in poultry outbreaks inevitably brings the virus into closer and more frequent proximity to humans, which is always a risk with viruses like influenza that can rapidly evolve,” Dr. Holly Shelton, head of the Influenza Viruses Group at The Pirbright Institute, told The Telegraph.
The End of the American Dream website reports that since 2003 there were 864 humans who were infected by bird flu in 19 countries. 456 of them died, a mortality rate shockingly higher than among those people who caught COVID and related viruses.
There’s never a good or convenient time for a new epidemic, and this is certainly not an exception. Many people simply have had it with viruses, flu, and epidemics. And now they are trying to cope with the highest inflation in years. Chicken is already at a multi-decade highs in many regions and overall food prices, already at or near record highs, are moving steadily higher. At this time, bird flu in the US appears to be under control, but just one report that it is spreading could result in the culling of many thousands of birds and send prices still higher.
The strain that has turned up now is said to be related to the one that broke out in 2015. And because this virus spreads easily from wild bird droppings and can be carried into commercial flocks on the shoes of workers or on equipment, the potential danger is high. High tech, including AI, is being used in commercial facilities to prevent this from happening, and these include new safeguards to prevent bird flu infections and to quickly isolate them if they should occur.
In addition, federal and state officials have prepared quarantine measures that restricts movement of poultry and equipment used in an infected barn and eradication of the virus by killing and removing birds at the infection site. Disinfection is also done to kill the virus at the affected farm and testing to confirm it’s free of the virus.
Despite all these steps, there is still concern that the virus could slip out between the cracks and cause huge financial losses and related problems. It’s become all too clear that we’re living in strange times and the unpredictable and crazy have become the new normal and headline news. And as we’ve seen, some viruses are very smart -- sometimes even smarter than people.
Sources: cdc.gov; nbcnewscom; usgs.gov; zerohedge.com