A latest fowl flu outbreak at a mink farm has reignited worries concerning the virus spreading extra broadly to folks.

Scientists have been holding tabs on this fowl flu virus because the Fifties, although it wasn’t deemed a menace to folks till a 1997 outbreak in Hong Kong amongst guests to dwell poultry markets.

As fowl flu hits extra and assorted animals, like at the mink farm, the concern is that the virus might evolve to unfold extra simply between folks, and probably set off a pandemic.

Scientist say one other type of fowl flu was probably behind the devastating 1918-1919 flu pandemic, and avian viruses performed roles in different flu pandemics in 1957, 1968, and 2009.

Nonetheless, the chance to most of the people now could be low, says Dr. Tim Uyeki of the U.S. Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention.

A glance at the fowl flu virus and why it’s getting renewed consideration:

What’s fowl flu?

Some flu viruses primarily have an effect on folks, however some others mainly happen in animals. For instance, there are flus that happen in canine, plus pig — or swine — flu viruses. After which there are avian viruses that unfold naturally in wild aquatic birds like geese and geese, after which to chickens and different domesticated poultry.

The fowl flu virus drawing consideration in the present day — Sort A H5N1 — was first recognized in 1959, by investigators wanting right into a flu outbreak in chickens in Scotland. Like different viruses, it has developed over time, spawning newer variations of itself.

By 2007, the virus was discovered in greater than 60 nations. Within the U.S., it has lately been detected in wild birds in each state, in addition to in business poultry operations or yard flocks in 47 states. For the reason that starting of final 12 months, tens of thousands and thousands of chickens have died of the virus or been killed to cease outbreaks from spreading, one of many causes cited for hovering egg costs.

How usually do folks get fowl flu?

The Hong Kong outbreak in 1997 was the primary time this fowl flu was blamed for extreme human sickness. Out of 18 folks contaminated, six died. To include the outbreak, the Hong Kong authorities closed dwell poultry markets, killed all of the birds in the markets, and stopped bringing in chickens from southern China. It labored, for some time.

Signs are the same to that of different flus, together with cough, physique aches and fever. Some folks don’t have noticeable signs, however some develop extreme. life-threatening pneumonia.

Globally, almost 870 human infections and 457 deaths have been reported to the World Well being Group in 20 nations. However the tempo has slowed and there have been about 170 infections and 50 deaths in the final seven years. Within the overwhelming majority of instances, the contaminated folks acquired it immediately from contaminated birds.

The primary and solely U.S. case occurred simply final April. A jail inmate in a piece program picked it up whereas killing contaminated birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado, in the western a part of the state. His solely symptom was fatigue and he recovered.

Can it unfold between folks?

In some cases, investigators concluded that the fowl flu virus apparently did unfold from one particular person to one other. That occurred in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, China and Pakistan, most lately in 2007.

In every cluster, it unfold inside households from a sick particular person in the house. Scientists don’t consider it may possibly unfold simply by informal contact, as seasonal flu can. However viruses mutate and alter. Scientists fear concerning the ever-increasing variety of alternatives for fowl flu to combine with different flu viruses in contaminated folks or animals and mutate, making it simpler to unfold to folks.

It wouldn’t take a lot for that to occur “and then we would be in a really tough situation,” stated Dr. Luis Ostrosky, chief of infectious illnesses and epidemiology at College of Texas Well being Science Middle at Houston.

The CDC’s Uyeki stated essentially the most nervous he’s been about H5N1 was through the earlier clusters. That type of human-to-human unfold doesn’t seem to be occurring proper now, he stated.

What occurred at the mink farm?

Latest concern amongst public well being specialists has been fueled, in half, by detection of infections in a wide range of mammals. The rising checklist contains foxes, raccoons, skunks, bears and even marine mammals like seals and porpoises. Officers in Peru stated three sea lions discovered useless in November examined optimistic for it, and the latest deaths of tons of of others could also be due to fowl flu.

Then final month, a European medical journal reported on a fowl flu outbreak in October at a mink farm in Spain with almost 52,000 animals, the place the sickness unfold like wildfire.

The mink had been fed poultry, and wild birds in the area had been discovered to have fowl flu. However researchers stated that nonetheless it began, they consider the virus then unfold from mink to mink — a worrisome state of affairs. No employees had been contaminated, although they wore masks as a part of COVID-19 precautions.

Jennifer Nuzzo, director of the Pandemic Middle at Brown College College of Public Well being, stated the outbreak virus is being watched for mutations that would make it extra simply transmitted to folks, and probably between folks.

“That’s the real worry,” stated Nuzzo.


The Related Press Well being and Science Division receives assist from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Instructional Media Group. The AP is solely answerable for all content material.

Learn the way to navigate and strengthen belief in your online business with The Belief Issue, a weekly e-newsletter inspecting what leaders want to succeed. Join right here.