The Bird Flu Outbreaks:

Taida Nando for Distilled Post

.Experts are already raising the alarm about the impact of the virus

Here we go again!

Since 2020, the world has been caught up in a cycle of outbreaks, leaving us on the edge and wondering what is next. The bird flu outbreak is the latest to make headlines. The current outbreak has sparked concerns about the great unknown threat that it will have on birds and humans alike. While the risk to humans remains low, we must delve into the potential implications.

The alarming spread

Since its re-emergence in late 2021, the outbreak has already escalated into a global phenomenon, that has been marked by alarming genetic mutations. According to a new study published in Nature Journal, new strains of the H5N1 avian influenza have changed rapidly and become more severe as they have spread in the past two years.

The current developments complicate the already long-standing disease that dates back over a century. The current infectious strain was first reported in China in 1996 at low infection rates. What has set it apart, has been the way it spreads. The virus can spread through entire flocks of domestic birds within a matter of days, through birds’ droppings and saliva, or contaminated feed and water.

In recent weeks the cases have spiked across the globe, with the spread of the illness resulting in 58 million deaths since last Autumn. Animals from 25 mammal species have already been affected by the virus, with 14 countries reporting cases to the World Organisation for Animal Health.


Health Risks

Emerging from the shadows of the Covid era, one lingering question looms over us: What are the potential health risks that the avian flu outbreak has for humans?

Bird flu viruses do not typically infect people, but rare cases of infection can happen when the virus gets into people’s eyes, nose, or mouth, or is inhaled. This can happen when the virus spreads from one infected person through close contact with contaminated poultry or birds. Currently, the disease has only been reported in one person in the United States, which the CDC considers to be low. However, for those that have job-related or recreational exposures to birds, they are at a higher risk of infection.

If the situation does become dire and cases increase, it is important to understand the complications that can result from the current strain. These can range from eye infections to pneumonia, including viral pneumonia and acute respiratory distress.

As of now, the situation in Europe and the United States appears more favourable than in other continents. For those in South America and Africa, the situation has demanded more attention. In February Cambodian authorities reported the death of an 11-year-old girl due to H5N1, with her father also testing positive for the virus. Luckily, it was later reported that the girl has died from a different strain than the one that has been spreading worldwide. Since then, only about a half dozen cases have been reported to the WHO in people who had close contact with the infected birds. Maybe use a different word than ‘luckily’ for this, just as a child died, I’m not sure it comes across well.

The Poultry Industry

What this conversation does open though, is considering COVID-19 if we have gotten better at mitigating the spread of such outbreaks that transcend national borders and can swiftly move across continents. The constant threat of influenza since 2020 is an issue for poultry producers worldwide. The outbreak has the potential to impact the food supply, with commodities such as chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, and eggs being at threat.

Thankfully in the UK, it seems like the government has been taking mitigating measures to lessen the impact. According to Professor Fielder of Kingston University, ‘In the main hotspots, like the east coast of England, there have already been avian influenza protection zones put into place to mitigate the spread. Moving ahead, we can only hope that there will be an increased emphasis on vaccinating commercial flocks, captive birds, and show animals. Although, there is a significant cost implication that must be considered, and poultry farmers may not report in fear of losing their income.

For the average shopper, the impact has already been evident. The outbreak was the main cause of the spike in egg prices earlier this year, which saw shoppers at Asda limiting customers to two boxes per transaction.

Scientists are still baffled as to why the current outbreak is much worse than previous ones. As we navigate the uncertain path ahead. Ongoing surveillance of poultry, wild birds, and mammals must be maintained.