Nearly 50 million birds have been euthanized in the US as one of the worst outbreaks of bird flu ever continues — and experts fear it could be passed on to humans.
Official figures from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) report that 47 million birds have died this year from the virus or have been culled to prevent transmission.
The outbreak has been ongoing since the beginning of the year, when reports of flu were found among couples in Europe. It has been found in 42 states.
The H5N1 species survived the summer and is still found in sections around the world.
Officials fear the threat could last until the summer of 2023.
It has led to a shortage of turkeys and chickens around the world, exacerbating the inflationary crisis many Americans face.
Some experts also fear it could eventually mutate enough to allow human transmission — triggering a potentially deadly outbreak.
A total of 47 million birds have been killed or killed in the US this year from bird flu, making it one of the worst outbreaks the country has ever experienced. During the outbreak, about 50 million were also culled in Europe
BIRD FLU: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
What is it? Bird flu is the source of all human flu, as far as we know.
It often passes another animal, such as a pig, in the process of mutating and adapting to infect us.
Wild birds are carriers, especially through migration.
As they clump together to breed, the virus quickly spreads and is then transported to other parts of the world.
New species usually first appear in Asia, where more than 60 species of shorebirds, waders and waterfowl, including plovers, black-tailed godwits and ducks, migrate to Alaska to breed and mingle with various migratory birds from the Americas. Others head west and infect European species.
Which species is currently spreading?? H5N1.
So far, since September 2021, the new virus has been detected worldwide in more than 22 million birds and poultry – a doubling from the previous record the year before.
Not only is the virus spreading at lightning speed, it’s also deadly on an unprecedented level, leading some experts to say it’s the deadliest strain yet.
Millions of chickens in the UK have been culled and last November our poultry industry was shut down, heavily impacting the availability of free range eggs.
Can it infect humans? Yes, but as of 2003, only 860 people worldwide have been infected with H5N1 from 18 countries.
The risk for humans has been classified as ‘low’.
But people are urged not to touch sick or dead birds, as the virus is deadly, killing 53 percent of those who do manage to infect it.
Do I have to worry? Not special.
Poultry farmers and people who handle wild birds are most at risk.
Scientists say there is a slim chance that a double infection of bird flu and seasonal flu could allow the current bird flu strain to adapt to spread between humans, but it remains highly unlikely.
In 2015, a record 50.5 million birds died or were euthanized in an outbreak – the largest number ever.
There are fears that this year’s outbreak could reach similar levels if left unchecked.
“This virus may be present in wild birds in the near future,” said Rosemary Sifford of the USDA.
“This one is definitely different.”
The same subtype, known as the goose/Guangdong lineage, is spreading in Europe.
The continent is already suffering the worst avian flu crisis, with nearly 50 million poultry culled.
Officials are finding the subtype in a wider range of wild birds, such as ducks, than in the past, and it seems to live longer in the birds, Sifford said.
An increased threat of infection could persist into the summer of 2023 as they migrate, she continued.
The US is monitoring wild birds for bird flu in four migratory routes known as flight paths, up from two previously, and plans to do the same next year.
The outbreak has infected couples in 42 states since February, twice as many as in 2015, USDA records show.
The infections decreased in the summer this year, but did not stop like in 2015.
The persistence of the virus surprised some producers, who have increased cleaning and safety in livestock houses since the 2015 outbreak.
“Unfortunately, what we’ve done is probably not enough to protect us against this large amount of viruses in the wild bird population,” Sifford said.
This has led to record prices for turkeys ahead of next month’s Thanksgiving holiday, at a time when many families are already struggling due to inflation.
Selling prices for boneless fresh turkey breast hit a record $6.70 a pound last month, up 112 percent from a year earlier and 14 percent above the previous record set in 2015, according to the American Farm Bureau.
Some also fear that this form of bird flu will eventually also be the source of the next bird flu.
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert at East Anglia University, said in August that the question is not ‘if’ bird flu will trigger another outbreak in humans, but ‘when’.
“Whether that happens in my lifetime or my grandchild’s, I wouldn’t want to guess,” he told MailOnline.
“These are very random events and you can never really predict when they will happen, but the more of them around, the greater the risk.”
In May, an inmate who worked on a ranch in Colorado’s Montrose County tested positive for the virus.