Bruce Y. LeeSenior ContributorHealthcareI am a writer, journalist, professor, systems modeler, computational and digital health expert, avocado-eater, and entrepreneur, not always in that order.FollowListen to article4 minutes
Here’s some fowl news. Outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza have recently been occurring in various parts of Europe and Asia. Highly pathogenic avian influenza ain’t just your run-of-the-mill bird flu. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “pathogenic” as “causing or capable of causing disease.” Therefore, being called “highly pathogenic” by your friends would not be a compliment. Similarly, highly pathogenic avian influenza is essentially bird flu that is either highly capable of causing disease or can cause severe disease. Or both. That’s why these outbreaks have been a bit of an “oh cluck” problem for poultry and poultry farmers.
According to the German media site DW, in recent months, there have been over 100 outbreaks of bird flu in Europe. Add to this number the outbreaks that have occurred in Asia and you’ve got even more than more than 100. So far, different highly pathogenic strains avian influenza have already made appearances in countries such as Norway, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Japan, South Korea, and China. For example, the Norwegian Veterinary Institute found the H5N1 strain among 7,500 or so laying hens in Rogaland, Norway. The H5N8 strain was detected in a farm with around 143,000 poultry in Yokote city in Akita Prefecture, Japan. The appearance of such strains on farms have led to rather large culls of poultry in attempts to prevent the virus from spreading further.
There have also been poultry lockdowns. Governments in Belgium, France, and the Netherlands have ordered that poultry be kept indoors.
Now if you don’t have wings and feathers, the risk of getting infected with these strains of bird flu is probably very low. For most of these outbreaks, there haven’t been any reports of human infections. One exception is what’s happened in China, which has experienced more than just a poultry number of infections. They’ve also reported 21 humans being infected with the H5N6 avian influenza in 2021 so far. This is significantly higher than last year, which had only five reported cases among humans.
Any increase in humans getting the bird flu does merit close monitoring to make sure that no human-to-human transmission is occurring. As long as transmission is just between a given human and his bird, or her bird, the virus isn’t likely to be a broader threat to the human population. So no need to panic or hoard any more toilet paper.
This is yet another reminder that we are not alone. We share this Earth with many other animals. It is important to protect other animals from dangerous viruses as well. Our society needs to be more cognizant of what’s happening with other animals and how human activities may be making other animals more vulnerable to infections. The poultry population could be a significant reservoir for future threats to the human population. After all, the answer to the question, “why did the chicken virus cross the road” may be because humans didn’t pay enough attention.