Why sick minks are reigniting worries about fowl flu

Why sick minks are reigniting worries about bird flu

Municipal staff acquire useless pelicans on Santa Maria seaside in Lima, Peru, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2022, as hundreds of birds have died in November alongside the Pacific of Peru from fowl flu, in accordance with The National Forest and Wildlife Service (Serfor). The fowl flu virus drawing consideration in 2023 — Type A H5N1 — was first recognized in 1959, by investigators trying right into a flu outbreak in chickens in Scotland. Like different viruses, it has advanced over time, spawning newer variations of itself. Credit: AP Photo/Guadalupe Pardo, File

A current fowl flu outbreak at a mink farm has reignited worries in regards to the virus spreading extra broadly to folks.

Scientists have been retaining tabs on this bird flu virus for the reason that Nineteen Fifties, although it wasn’t deemed a menace to folks till a 1997 outbreak in Hong Kong amongst guests to stay poultry markets.

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As fowl flu hits extra and diverse animals, like on the mink farm, the concern is that the virus might evolve to unfold extra simply between folks, and doubtlessly set off a pandemic.

Scientist say one other form of fowl flu was seemingly behind the devastating 1918-1919 flu pandemic, and avian viruses performed roles in different flu pandemics in 1957, 1968, and 2009.

Still, the chance to the general public now’s low, says Dr. Tim Uyeki of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A take a look at the fowl flu virus and why it’s getting renewed consideration:


Some flu viruses primarily have an effect on folks, however some others mainly happen in animals. For instance, there are flus that happen in canine, plus pig—or swine—flu viruses. And then there are avian viruses that unfold naturally in wild aquatic birds like geese and geese, after which to chickens and different domesticated poultry.

The fowl flu virus drawing consideration right now—Type A H5N1—was first recognized in 1959, by investigators trying right into a flu outbreak in chickens in Scotland. Like different viruses, it has advanced over time, spawning newer variations of itself.

By 2007, the virus was discovered in additional than 60 international locations. In the U.S., it has just lately been detected in wild birds in each state, in addition to in business poultry operations or yard flocks in 47 states. Since the start of final yr, tens of tens of millions of chickens have died of the virus or been killed to cease outbreaks from spreading, one of many causes cited for hovering egg costs.


The Hong Kong outbreak in 1997 was the primary time this fowl flu was blamed for extreme human sickness. Out of 18 folks contaminated, six died. To comprise the outbreak, the Hong Kong authorities closed stay poultry markets, killed all of the birds within the markets, and stopped bringing in chickens from southern China. It labored, for some time.

Symptoms are the just like that of different flus, together with cough, physique aches and fever. Some folks do not have noticeable signs, however some develop extreme. life-threatening pneumonia.

Globally, almost 870 human infections and 457 deaths have been reported to the World Health Organization in 20 international locations. But the tempo has slowed and there have been about 170 infections and 50 deaths within the final seven years. In the overwhelming majority of instances, the infected people acquired it straight from contaminated birds.

The first and solely U.S. case occurred simply final April. A jail inmate in a piece program picked it up whereas killing contaminated birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado, within the western a part of the state. His solely symptom was fatigue and he recovered.


In some cases, investigators concluded that the fowl flu virus apparently did unfold from one particular person to a different. That occurred in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, China and Pakistan, most just lately in 2007.

In every cluster, it unfold inside households from a sick particular person within the residence. Scientists don’t imagine it may well unfold simply by means of informal contact, as seasonal flu can. But viruses mutate and alter. Scientists fear in regards to the ever-increasing variety of alternatives for fowl flu to combine with different flu viruses in contaminated folks or animals and mutate, making it simpler to unfold to folks.

It would not take a lot for that to occur “and then we would be in a really tough situation,” mentioned Dr. Luis Ostrosky, chief of infectious ailments and epidemiology at University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

The CDC’s Uyeki mentioned probably the most anxious he is been about H5N1 was in the course of the earlier clusters. That form of human-to-human unfold doesn’t look like taking place proper now, he mentioned.


Recent concern amongst public well being specialists has been fueled, partly, by detection of infections in a wide range of mammals. The rising record contains foxes, raccoons, skunks, bears and even marine mammals like seals and porpoises. Officials in Peru mentioned three sea lions discovered useless in November examined optimistic for, and the current deaths of lots of of others could also be because of fowl flu.

Then final month, a European medical journal reported on a fowl flu outbreak in October at a mink farm in Spain with almost 52,000 animals, the place the sickness unfold like wildfire.

The mink have been fed poultry, and wild birds within the area had been discovered to have bird flu. But researchers mentioned that nevertheless it began, they imagine the virus then unfold from mink to mink—a worrisome state of affairs. No staff have been contaminated, although they wore masks as a part of COVID-19 precautions.

Jennifer Nuzzo, director of the Pandemic Center at Brown University School of Public Health, mentioned the outbreak virus is being watched for mutations that would make it extra simply transmitted to folks, and doubtlessly between folks.

“That’s the real worry,” mentioned Nuzzo.

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