Bird Flu H5N1 Worst-Ever Outbreak in US Affecting Birds in Wild

Bird Flu Outbreak (Photo: Owen Humphreys)

The US is currently facing its worst-ever outbreak of bird flu, also known as avian influenza, and a new study suggests that the strain could become endemic in the country.

“This outbreak is wiping out everything in numbers we’ve never seen before,” Jennifer Mullinax, an assistant professor of environmental science and technology at the University of Maryland, told.

The new H5N1 strain has already killed over 58 million chickens, turkeys, and other birds.

The US has dealt with bird flu before, with the H5N8 strain leading to the culling of 50 million birds in 2015. However, the new, more contagious strain is particularly impacting wild birds, Sky News reported.

“Unlike H5N8, this disease is heavily impacting wild birds,” said Johanna Harvey, a postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the study published in Conservation Biology at the University of Maryland.

“It’s difficult to estimate how many birds are truly affected across wild populations, but we’re seeing dramatic disease impacts in raptors, seabirds, and colonial nesting birds. And we now have the highest amount of poultry loss to avian influenza, so this is a worst-case scenario,” she added.

Researchers believe that bird flu will likely become endemic in the US, meaning the disease will be constantly present within an area or community, which could affect food security and the economy.

Wild Birds Affected By H5N1 – Bird Flu (Photo: Getty Images)

Last week, the US government began testing four new bird-flu vaccines to try and protect poultry from this mass outbreak.

The disease can and does affect humans, but it’s rare. The first case of H5N1 infection in a human in the US was reported in April 2022. A man was also diagnosed with the virus in Chile, according to the World Health Organization.

Most cases of human infection have been in Southeast Asia, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There were only three cases of human infection in 2023: two in Cambodia, and one in China. One of the people infected in Cambodia, an 11-year-old girl, died from the illness.

Speaking about this death to AP, James Wood, the head of the department of veterinary medicine at Cambridge University, said there is no reason to be unduly concerned about human infection with bird flu.

“Tragic though this case in Cambodia is, we expect there to be some cases of clinical disease with such a widespread infection.

Clearly, the virus needs careful monitoring and surveillance to check that it has not mutated or recombined, but the limited numbers of cases of human disease have not increased markedly, and this one case in itself does not signal the global situation has suddenly changed,” he said.

Avian flu is ravaging farmers and the markets.

In January, Insider’s George Glover explained the egg crisis facing Americans as prices surged by almost 60% in 2022 due to the influenza outbreak.

The average cost of a dozen eggs rose by 59% last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with prices more than doubling in West Virginia and six states in the upper Midwest.

The unprecedented spread of the disease and 2022’s high inflation rates, which raised farmers’ costs, caused the jump — and it doesn’t look like it will change soon.

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