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WHO: Avian Flu Spreads to Mammals, Threat to Humans is 'Low'

    WHO: Avian Flu Spreads to Mammals, Threat to Humans is 'Low'
    Last updated Feb 14, 2023
    Image credit: cnn

    Facts

    • The World Health Organization (WHO) is warning that avian flu has infected a record number of birds in the US and even spread to some mammals, with 17 non-bird species reported to have been infected in 20 states.[1]
    • Despite concern that animal viruses can mutate and jump species to make humans sick, General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director of the WHO, said last week that avian flu poses a low risk to humans but added, “we cannot assume that will remain the case.”[1]
    • Cases of the H5N1 influenza strain, referred to as bird flu, have already been reported in bears, raccoons, and foxes. H5N1 has been detected in humans in the past, but cases are rare and usually linked to close contact with infected birds — not through human-to-human contact.[2]
    • According to the Department of Agriculture, more than 58M domestic fowl in the US have died or been culled over the past 12 months due to the large outbreak of avian flu. The virus has also led to outbreaks in Spain, the United Kingdom, and Peru.[3]
    • US health officials are considering vaccinating poultry in order to stem the outbreak. Vaccines have been used in past outbreaks, and poultry are already vaccinated for other diseases. However, it’s unknown if vaccines would work against the current bird flu strain.[4]
    • The H5N1 outbreak has led to reduced poultry flocks, contributing to soaring egg prices, which hit a wholesale record in December.[5]

    Spin

    Narrative A

    While the risk to humans is currently low, there's no guarantee this will remain. Although it’s rare for the virus to jump from birds to humans, it’s already taken a step toward people by infecting several mammals, including otters and foxes. We could be a couple of mutations from a major health disaster — this needs to be taken seriously.

    Narrative B

    While every precaution should be taken, the media needs to be careful not to needlessly spread panic. Scientists are monitoring this situation, and we are nowhere near a human pandemic. Biologically, humans aren’t receptive to bird flu, and it would take a special type of mutation of the virus to become a threat to humans. Rather than solely focusing on manufactured problems, attention should be given to the existing effects of this outbreak on people's livelihoods.

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