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Avian flu spreads in several US states

By MINLU ZHANG in New York | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2022-03-02 12:04

A deadly form of avian influenza has spread across the eastern half of the US, killing commercial flocks of chickens and turkeys and wild birds, but doesn't pose a threat to humans, officials said.

On Tuesday, agriculture officials in Indiana said the disease had hit a sixth commercial turkey farm in the southern part of the state, and they have begun euthanizing the 16,500 birds at the farm to prevent the spread of the disease.

As of Monday, federal health officials have announced 297 detections in waterfowl, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Of 45 new detections, 21 were from testing of live birds in New Jersey. The report also includes the first detection in Alabama.

To monitor outbreaks, the USDA said it is collecting samples in 25 different states, coordinating with state wildlife or natural resources departments.

Prior to the outbreak, the last time an avian influenza case was reported in the US was in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC).

It is unclear how the latest bird flu cases began, but health officials have said that migratory wild birds are likely spreading the disease.

Officials said they were shocked at how quickly the virus is killing the animals, saying they are dying within hours of the initial infection.

Since early January, the virus has made its way through factory farms and migrating ducks, geese and swans from Florida to Maine, and the virus has been identified in backyard chickens in Virginia and New York.

It also has sickened thousands of turkeys in Kentucky. Last week, officials announced that the virus had been found in the country's largest concentration of poultry farms in Delaware.

No human cases of avian influenza have been detected in the US, according to the CDC.

Officials have emphasized that the avian influenza detections don't present an immediate public health concern and that consumers need not take any action.

"As a reminder, the proper handling and cooking of poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit kills bacteria and viruses," the CDC said.

"Avian influenza does not affect poultry meat or egg products, which remain safe to eat and handle," Maryland Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder said in a statement.

Jeff Semler, a University of Maryland extension educator, told USA Today: "Right now, it's not a time to panic. First and foremost, there's no human health risk. This is a bird problem at this point. It does have a health risk to birds."

But the increasing infection among birds may increase the possibility of the virus mutating in a way that would infect humans, officials said.

"Scientists always assumed the next pandemic would be a respiratory influenza," Gail Hansen, a public health veterinarian who is the former state epidemiologist for Kansas. She noted that influenza viruses have historically been behind the pandemics that affect humans.

"We were wrong with COVID, but it's these kinds of viruses that keep us awake at night," she told The New York Times.

Avian influenza has the potential to cause significant financial loss to the US poultry industry. A bird flu outbreak from 2014 to 2015 caused more than 50 million birds to die or be euthanized. That affected more than 200 farms in 15 states and cost the industry more than $3 billion, causing the price of poultry and eggs to soar.

New cases of bird flu also have appeared in more than 40 countries in Asia, the Middle East and Europe over the last six months, with 300 outbreaks in 29 European countries in the past few weeks. In Israel, thousands of cranes have been killed at a nature reserve.

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