Global Bird Flu Outbreak Sparks Concerns of Human Transmission

The H5N1 bird flu outbreak, which began in 2020, has recently spread to cattle in several U.S. states and marine mammals worldwide, prompting health officials to closely monitor the situation amid concerns that the virus could mutate and spread to humans.

June 25: Finland announced plans to start vaccinating vulnerable populations, such as farm workers, against bird flu next week. The country has acquired 10,000 vaccine series—each with two doses—through a European Union deal with CSL Seqirus, which will supply up to 40 million vaccines to 15 countries. as reported by Forbes.

June 11: The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that a four-year-old child in India was infected with H9N2 bird flu, a different strain from H5N1. The child recovered after experiencing seizures, respiratory distress, fever, and abdominal cramps. H9N2 has infected around 100 people globally since 1998, and this is the second human case in India.

June 6: Dozens of cows infected with bird flu either died or were slaughtered in Colorado, Ohio, Michigan, South Carolina, and Texas. This is unusual because cows, unlike poultry, are more costly to slaughter and generally recover from the virus.

June 5: A study on the 2023 bird flu outbreak in South America found that the disease killed around 17,400 elephant seal pups and 24,000 sea lions. It also marked the first known case of transnational mammal-to-mammal bird flu transmission.

May 30: Another human case of bird flu was detected in a Michigan dairy farm worker, who became the first person in the U.S. to report respiratory symptoms linked to bird flu. The individual’s symptoms are “resolving,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

May 23: A study with mice suggested that drinking infected milk could spread the disease, and a certain type of pasteurization may not always be effective in killing the virus.

May 22: Michigan reported its second human case of bird flu tied to transmission from dairy cows. The worker had a mild infection and has since recovered.

May 21: Australia reported its first human case of bird flu after a child became infected in March following a trip to India. The child recovered after suffering from a severe infection.

May 16: The USDA found that high levels of the virus injected into beef left no trace after the meat was cooked medium to well done. The virus was found in meat cooked to lower temperatures.

May 14: The CDC released influenza A wastewater data showing unusually high levels in several states, though it is unclear if the virus came from humans or animals. The agency cannot differentiate between influenza A subtypes. report from NBC.

May 10: The FDA committed an additional $8 million to ensure the commercial milk supply is safe, and the USDA allocated up to $28,000 per farm to help mitigate the spread of the disease, totaling around $98 million in funds.

May 9: Around 70 people in Colorado are being monitored for bird flu due to potential exposure and will be tested if they show symptoms.

May 1: The USDA confirmed that grocery store ground beef products tested negative for bird flu, reaffirming the meat supply is safe.

April 30: Wenqing Zhang, head of WHO’s Global Influenza Programme, warned that cows in other countries might get infected due to the movement of migratory birds.

April 29: The USDA announced it would begin testing ground beef samples from grocery stores in states with cow outbreaks and test infected beef cooked at different temperatures.

April 24: The USDA suggested that cow-to-cow transmission might occur through raw milk and advised against consuming unpasteurized milk.

April 18: Jeremy Farrar, WHO’s chief scientist, expressed concern about bird flu potentially spreading between humans due to its increasing infections in mammals.

April 1: The CDC reported the second U.S. human case of bird flu in a Texas dairy farmer, who contracted the virus from infected dairy cows and recovered.

Bird Flu and Humans: Bird flu rarely infects humans, and most cases stem from close contact with infected poultry. Since January 2003, there have been 888 human cases of H5N1 bird flu, with 463 fatalities. The U.S. has had two cases, both from contact with sick animals. The virus does not easily transmit between people, but human-to-human spread poses a pandemic risk.

Safety of Milk and Meat: Raw, unpasteurized milk is unsafe, but pasteurized milk is safe due to heat deactivating the virus. Properly cooked meat, according to USDA guidelines, is safe to eat, as the virus does not survive high temperatures from AllSides.

Impact on Poultry and Egg Prices: Bird flu outbreaks have led to the culling of millions of poultry, causing egg prices to rise. Farmers kill infected chickens to control the spread, and the USDA compensates them to encourage responsible practices.

Vaccines: The FDA has approved bird flu vaccines for humans, and the U.S. has a stockpile for H5N1, though not enough for all Americans. CSL Seqirus can produce 150 million vaccines within six months of a human outbreak announcement. The USDA is testing H5N1 vaccines for animals.

Background: Since 2022, over 92 million poultry and 57 dairy cow herds have been affected by bird flu in the U.S. Experts are concerned about the virus mutating and spreading to humans. The first walrus and dolphin cases were reported recently, and numerous mammal infections have occurred worldwide.

Tangent: WHO confirmed the first human death from H5N2 bird flu in Mexico, a strain not previously seen in humans. The 59-year-old man had no known contact with poultry or animals, and it is unclear how he became infected.