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Bird flu dangers: What to know because the ‘versatile’ virus continues to unfold – Nationwide

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As the lethal H5N1 hen flu continues its international unfold, wiping out colonies of sea lions, decimating hen populations by the tens of millions and even reaching Antarctica for the first time, considerations persist relating to its potential dangers to human well being.

The latest improvement emerged after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday reported a human case of avian influenza in a person who had contact with dairy cows in Texas presumed to be contaminated with the virus.

“So this highly pathogenic avian influenza has been circulating around the world at a very high rate for a number of years now,” defined Matthew Miller, the director of the Degroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University.

However, the truth that it has by no means earlier than unfold to dairy cattle raises vital considerations, he mentioned.

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Click to play video: 'Bird flu virus spreads to mammals'


Bird flu virus spreads to mammals


“The thing that makes this concerning as it pertains to risk to humans is that we know humans are at most risk of viruses jumping into them when they’re in close proximity to animals that are infected. And indeed, this case in Texas appears to have derived from a worker on a cattle ranch who is in proximity to an infected cow,” he advised Global News.

“It is a relatively new development that changes the risk evaluation.”

Although human instances stay uncommon, well being consultants warning there’s a heightened threat of the hen flu evolving to contaminate people extra readily.

Avian flu, often known as the hen flu, is a illness brought on by influenza viruses that unfold amongst wild aquatic birds and might infect home poultry and different animal species. The viruses are distinct from those that trigger the flu in people, however they’re associated.

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The H5N1 avian influenza virus first emerged in 1996 in southern China and has been inflicting hen outbreaks all over the world since then.

Since 2020, a variant of those viruses belonging to the H5 clade 2.3.4.4b has led to an unprecedented variety of deaths in wild birds and poultry in lots of nations in Africa, Asia and Europe. In 2021, the virus unfold to the U.S. and Canada, and in 2022, to Central and South America, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).


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Globally, H5N1 has contaminated many mammals, together with foxes, pumas, skunks, and each black and brown bears in North America. The avian flu has already reached new corners of the world in recent years and is now current in penguins living in Antarctica and polar bears in Alaska.

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The virus normally infects the gastrointestinal tract of birds, and it’s shed when the hen defecates, Miller mentioned.

“When there are migrating ducks and geese over grazing pastures, for example, if those birds defecate, it can contaminate soil, it can contaminate drinking water, and that can lead to other animals becoming infected. Of course, in many cases, those infected birds may also die. And if scavenger animals, eat those birds, that’s another way that they can become infected,” he defined.

What is the danger to people?

Human instances of H5N1 have primarily occurred resulting from zoonotic transmission by way of direct contact with contaminated birds (useless or alive) or contaminated environments. Human-to-human transmission is extraordinarily uncommon, Health Canada stated on its website.

The most recent loss of life occurred final month in Vietnam, the WHO reported. A 21-year-old died on March 23 after he examined constructive for H5N1. The man had no historical past of contact with useless or sick poultry or anybody with comparable signs. However, well being officers mentioned he was reportedly trapping wild birds in his hometown.

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“In Canada, the risk to the general public is still very low,” Miller mentioned.

However, he believes the instances involving contaminated dairy milk warrant “increased attention,” particularly from individuals whose occupations put them in shut publicity to wild animals and cattle.

“The real problem historically, with highly pathogenic avian flu infections in humans is that despite relatively low transmission rates, they can cause much more severe illness than a typical influenza infection,” he cautioned.

“Previous outbreaks of this avian flu have had death rates that are in some cases higher than 30 per cent, which is extraordinarily high by any virus standards.”

Another distinctive characteristic of this virus, he famous, is that not like most seasonal influenza strains that primarily have an effect on human lungs, extremely pathogenic avian influenza can infect varied organ programs in our physique. In some situations, it could even attain the mind, leading to extreme issues similar to encephalitis, which poses vital challenges for remedy.

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Should we be involved about milk?

On March 25, U.S. federal officers introduced the detection of avian influenza in laboratory samples obtained from some affected cows in Texas and Kansas. Days later, federal officers mentioned that they had confirmed the presence of the virus in a herd in Michigan, and suspected extra instances in cows in New Mexico and Idaho.

Officials mentioned they believed the cows had contracted the virus from wild birds, however that transmission among the many cattle “cannot be ruled out.”

It is the primary time the illness has been present in dairy cattle, in keeping with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Shayan Sharif, a professor and affiliate dean with the Ontario Veterinary College on the University of Guelph, referred to as this transmission “quite surprising” and “rather unexpected.”

“But this virus has shown to be quite versatile. It can do a lot of different things. And maybe we should not have been surprised to see this virus jumping from birds to cattle,” he mentioned.

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Click to play video: 'Avian flu discovered in dead skunks'


Avian flu found in useless skunks


Previously, Sharif mentioned many infectious illness specialists had the impression that the H5N1 virus couldn’t transmit to cattle, however “many of our theories and hypotheses have been proven wrong. So I am quite concerned about what this virus is capable of doing in the future.”

Miller additionally believes that Canadian farmers are exercising elevated vigilance over their cattle in gentle of those instances. With the onset of spring, migration will convey waterfowl again to those areas, heightening the danger.

However, Miller reassured there is no such thing as a threat of contracting the virus from milk if it’s pasteurized.

“It’s the reason we pasteurize, to kill any sort of germs that might be present in the milk. And that’s why pasteurization is so widespread and it’s been so important in preventing infections,” he mentioned. “And, in general, there’s not a risk of contamination of meat products either. So that’s not something that I think people need to be concerned about.”

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How to stop future outbreaks

Miller and Sharif stress that the best technique for stopping widespread avian flu outbreaks is to reduce its possibilities of crossing from animals to people.

As Miller defined, the longer the virus has alternatives to leap from animals to people, the extra possible it’s to develop the flexibility to contaminate individuals.

“Then it has an opportunity to transmit between people. That creates a risk of widespread outbreaks or pandemics. And thankfully, as far as we know, this virus does not do that efficiently, and we want to keep it that way.”

Sharif famous that as a result of avian flu operates equally to COVID-19, most of the practices applied through the pandemic will be utilized right here. This consists of minimizing contact with contaminated animals, making certain thorough handwashing and practising disinfection every time potential.

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Another technique to assist stop an outbreak concerned vaccination.

“We currently don’t have any vaccination plan for poultry or for cattle in Canada,” Sharif mentioned. “But time will tell whether or not there is going to be a safe and efficacious vaccine available for poultry and cattle.”

— with recordsdata from Global News’ Katherine Ward and Reuters

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