Bird flu has been found in two areas of the U.S. this month. In Washington State, a hunter killed a green-winged teal duck that tested positive for the H5N1 strain of bird flu. In Idaho, the Idaho Department of Agriculture has quarantined an area of about six miles near Parma after an outbreak of H5N2 bird flu was identified in domestic poultry.
The H5N1 strain that was discovered in the duck in Washington State is a relative of the H5N1 that has been found in Asia, Europe, and Africa. So far, the virus found in the U.S. is not known to have spread to humans. It seems to be limited to wild birds, although this version of bird flu could spread to domestic birds.
The first human death from avian flu in North America occurred in December when a visitor to Beijing, China, fell ill on a flight into Canada. NBC News reports that the H5N1 version of the virus found in Washington State is genetically different from the one that sickened nearly 700 people and killed around 400.
The U.S. Geological Survey released a statement saying, “Unlike the Asian H5N1 strain that has been found in Asia, Europe, and Africa, this Washington state strain has only been found in wild waterfowl and has not been associated with human illness, nor has this new Washington state strain been found in domestic poultry.”
The H5N2 strain of the flu that has been identified in Idaho has not been detected in humans either; however, it is a possibility, especially if the outbreak spreads. Farmers in Idaho are worried. If even one of their birds gets avian flu, they may have to kill the entire flock. Jim Schwartz, who raises chickens, told KIVI Boise, “Some government agencies like to say that they’ve been quarantined and depopulated, basically they’re just saying we’ve taken them and killed them and disposed of them.”
Despite his concerns, Schwartz thinks farmers can take precautions to prevent their flocks from becoming infected, like making sure their water is from a clean source and keeping domestic birds away from wild birds. He also says that people should not touch dead birds, just in case they are carrying bird flu. Idaho officials indicated that bird flu does not infect poultry meat or eggs and that they are safe to eat.
Still, the U.S. and the Idaho Departments of Agriculture will have to keep an eye on the situation. Schwartz sums the situation up succinctly saying, “As to whether or not it will even mutate into something that can be transferred to humans, there’s no cases of it yet but there might be.”
[Image via South China Morning Post Hong Kong]