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

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The 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.

  • 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.”

The 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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