Is bird flu dangerous for humans? What we know about the H5 bird flu

Health officials in Colorado reported the first US case of a human infected with the H5 bird flu virus this week, as the country as a whole grapples with a massive outbreak of bird flu on poultry farms.

The infected person, described as an adult male under 40 who worked on a farm with infected birds, is largely asymptomatic and experiences only fatigue, the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE) said Thursday.

The man’s reported infection was detected in a single nasal sample. The CDPHE noted that it is possible for the virus to be present in the human nose without causing infection simply because of its proximity to infected birds. Still, he is now isolating and receiving an antiviral flu medication. The affected flock of birds was killed.

chicken farm
A broiler farm in Osage, Iowa, in August 2014. Avian flu can spread rapidly through farms, resulting in the death of millions of birds.
Scott Olson/Getty

What is H5 Avian Influenza?

The H5 Avian Influenza virus is also known as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) A H5 and a few different subtypes have been reported in the US known as H5N1, H5N2 and H5N8.

H5 bird flu can be highly infectious, spreading through flocks of birds and infecting their respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts. The virus has a high fatality rate in infected birds, although outbreaks often result in millions of birds being killed anyway by farmers to prevent it from spreading.

In birds, symptoms of HPAI infections can include sudden death; lack of energy, appetite and coordination; purple discoloration or swelling of various parts of the body; diarrhea; nasal discharge; cough; sneezing; and reduced egg production, or soft-shelled or misshapen eggs, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Can humans catch it and is it dangerous?

Avian influenza infections in humans ranged in severity from no symptoms or mild illness to severe illness resulting in death.

Yes, it is possible for humans to catch the H5 bird flu, although this is rare and the Colorado case is the first reported infection in the US, according to the CDC.

In other countries, humans infected with the virus have experienced symptoms similar to those of seasonal flu, but their illness can progress to lower respiratory tract illnesses and even severe pneumonia, multi-organ failure and septic shock, the CDC says.

Most human infections with the H5 avian influenza virus have occurred in people not wearing appropriate personal protective equipment who were in direct physical contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces; were close to infected birds; or visiting a live bird market.

Otherwise, the CDC says the public health risk of bird-to-human transmission of the H5 avian influenza virus “is considered low” and preliminary laboratory studies suggest the viruses “are not well adapted to humans”. The risk of infection may increase with exposure to infected birds.

Human-to-human transmission of bird flu is generally described by the CDC as “very rare”, although it has happened. Due to the possibility that viruses could evolve to better spread between people, the agency says that monitoring person-to-person spread is “extremely important for public health.”

The current avian flu epidemic in the US

The US is currently facing a major outbreak of HPAI avian influenza that has been confirmed in 29 states and has affected more than 33 million birds, according to the US Department of Agriculture on April 27.

“Highly pathogenic avian influenza is a serious concern for our country’s poultry industry, and we need to continue our national response to minimize the impact,” said USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jenny Lester Moffitt in a press release. of the agency.

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