The H5N1 strain of bird flu has rocked the US as it tries to contain the deadliest bird flu outbreak in history. William Brangham of PBS NewsHour joined Nicole Ellis to explain the significance of this avian flu, the severity of the outbreak and how it will affect people across the country.
Watch the full conversation in the video player above.
What is bird flu?
Birds have flu in their stomachs all the time, Brangham said, and it usually doesn’t cause any problems for them or us. But, “Every once in a while one of those viruses” — like H5N1 — “becomes super contagious among birds and more deadly to birds,” Brangham said. This particular species has been circulating among birds for several years, but has only become deadly in the US in the last year and a half. It spreads quickly not only among chickens, but also among bird populations not typically infected with H5N1, such as falcons, hawks, eagles and owls, Brangham said.
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Should we be concerned about human transmission?
Brangham said bird flu very rarely jumps to humans, and epidemiologists have told him there is no immediate threat to the general population. But the outbreak is of great concern to the scientific community and is being watched closely, Brangham said.
In the few cases where people have been infected by this strain of bird flu, they are almost always cases where someone was in direct contact with birds that were infected or handled their droppings or their droppings. In those cases, the death rate from avian flu among humans is high — about half of those infected, Brangham said. (We see this in history too. The 1918 flu, an avian flu that became contagious among humans, killed an estimated 500 million people worldwide).
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What is encouraging for epidemiologists at this point is that individuals who got sick with avian flu “did not pass the virus on to other people,” an indicator that the virus has not evolved to spread among humans.”
What about consuming chicken or egg products?
Avian flu has sent egg prices skyrocketing and has affected supply chains both in the US and around the world.
While that has caused some pain at the grocery store, there’s no need to worry about contracting bird flu from the food you bring home.
“All the evidence out there right now is that if you cook your chicken or eggs or turkey or whatever poultry product you eat to the right temperature, you won’t get bird flu,” Brangham said, adding that farmers can also effectively protect their crops. clean up, so that the virus does not end up in the flu supply.
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“If you’re concerned, just do smart food safety practices: cook your eggs, cook your chicken, cook your turkey, really wash the boards you use with them, wash your hands,” he said. “Only smart, simple kitchen practices will prevent something like this.”