What to know about the bird flu outbreak in the US

Testing for bird flu, conceptual image. (Courtesy Getty Images)

By Mrinali Dhembla

April 25, 2024

What is going on?

The U.S. Food and Drug announced earlier this week that traces of bird flu were detected in commercial samples of milk. This strain of bird flu is known as the “highly pathogenic avian influenza A (H5N1)” and only a small number of H5N1 cases have been reported in humans (only two in the US) so far. There is also no record of any human-to-human transmission of this virus yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While there are no reported cases of bird flu in New Hampshire amidst the recent spike, the virus has been detected in 48 states since 2022. Meanwhile, the current risk to the public remains low.

What is avian influenza a.k.a bird flu?

Bird flu, or avian influenza, is caused by a virus found in wild birds. And while wild birds do not get sick due to the virus, they become carriers and pass it on to non-wild birds, such as chickens, turkeys, and ducks.

The recent transmission of the virus from wild birds to cows has been called “novel” by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and requires further studying, the department claims.

The virus was first detected in dairy cows in March, and the USDA ordered yesterday that all cattle be tested prior to any interstate movement.

How do you get bird flu and what happens when you’re infected?

Illnesses range in severity from mild eye infections and upper respiratory symptoms, to more serious symptoms such as pneumonia. Bird flu infections in humans occur after lengthy and unprotected exposure with an infected bird, animal or their contaminated environments.

Got it! Milk is infected, but is it safe to eat eggs?

There is no evidence that the virus can be transmitted through properly cooked food, so eating eggs (chicken and beef) should be safe. Dairy cows that have found to be infected have been quarantined and their milk has been destroyed. Additionally, The FDA encourages consumers not to drink raw, unpasteurized milk.

 

Author

  • Mrinali Dhembla

    Based in Manchester, New Hampshire, Mrinali Dhembla is Granite Post's multimedia reporter. She's previously worked as deputy editor at The Keene Sentinel, and has experience writing for many national and international publications. When not doing journalism, she likes to cook food (and eat it).

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