How Worried Should We Be About Bird Flu Right Now?

The bird flu has caught many of us off guard as well. Earlier this week, health officials announced a case of H5N1 influenza in Texas, which may have been contracted by infected cattle in the area. These recent cases in livestock and now humans are always a concern, but for now, the threat of bird flu appears to be low.

The public issue was reported Sunday by Texas health officials and it has been confirmed Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The man, identified as a farm worker, was diagnosed with H5N1 influenza and had recently come into contact with cattle suspected to be infected with the H5N1 virus. However, the person’s symptoms so far have been red, which is probably a sign of conjunctivitis, or pink eye. This is the second case of avian H5N1 reported in the US, following a 2022 case involving a prison employee who handled infected chickens.

The threat of H5N1 and other similar strains of HPAI bird flu is very real, according to Amesh Adalja, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

“Influenza viruses have always been known to be very dangerous because they can cause serious illness and the history of influenza viruses that cause epidemics. “For example, the 1918 flu pandemic was caused by a bird virus,” Adalja told Gizmodo in an email. This is very different from seasonal flu viruses that protect people from disease, vaccination programs, and often get very sick.”

H5N1 bird flu strains have been circulating for decades, causing large and deadly outbreaks among wild birds and sometimes domestic chickens. But in the past few years, there have been more reports of H5N1 infections in mammals such as sea lions, mink, and dolphins. Last week, local and federal health officials was first announced Detection of H5N1 infection in cattle on several dairy farms in Texas and Kansas. So far, there are cases of cattle that have been found five countries, where the litigation was has been found in goats on a Minnesota farm at the beginning of the month.

These pet stories have never happened before. And unlike other stomach diseases, the threat of human transmission is possible, due to close contact with these animals and farm workers. Currently, there are many unanswered questions about how these diseases spread. Authorities have found dead or infected birds near the farms, explaining how the cases started. But it is not known whether these types of the virus are spread from cow to cow.

“The important question is to understand how cattle get infected,” Adalja said.

As alarming as it is, not all of the news we’ve learned so far is bad. Preliminary genetic analysis of strains derived from cattle has yet to find any genetic mutations that would make the virus more susceptible to infecting or infecting mammals, including humans. According to the CDC, these strains do not appear to have undergone genetic changes that would make them resistant to existing antivirals. And while the seasonal flu vaccine won’t protect against H5N1, we have the ability to develop a vaccine against this virus soon if needed, the CDC said.

“The genetic evidence does not mean that the virus has evolved to spread to humans,” Adalja said.

Some of what is happening at this point is impossible to know. Recent cases of avian H5N1 have been rare but often fatal, with mortality rates as high as 50%. But it is not certain that strains that are modified to spread among humans will remain infectious. At the same time, the covid-19 pandemic showed that a rapidly spreading virus can kill and injure many people even if it does not kill an individual.

All of this is to say that H5N1 is a real problem that needs to be understood and contained as soon as possible. The more time it spreads in cattle or other mammals, the more likely it is that some species will take on the necessary mutations that can turn into serious human diseases. And even if these recent epidemics are brought down in time, scientists and public health agencies will always be on alert to prevent the risk of bird flu one day starting another pandemic.

However, at this point, H5N1 should not be the next virus that anyone should worry about.

“Influenza is the biggest epidemic we are facing. However, at the moment, it is not the case that this cattle disease is a serious threat to public health,” said Adalja.

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