1. A New Strain of Bird Flu
A new strain of Bird flu is now sweeping across swathes of the US, predominantly attacking
wild bird populations but also poultry farms. It has been reported that 24 million birds have
already perished to date. Unlike previous strains, it seems this is here to stay, as the water
fowl tend to remain healthy and migrate vast distances as carriers of the disease, causing it to
spread far and wide.
2. Cases Spread Throughout Wild & Domestic Birds in US
The first case of HPAI was on February 8th 2022 in a domestic farm, and by March 9th, 2.8m
birds had died, predominantly chicken & turkeys. Consequently, the price and export of
staple foods, such as eggs, chicken or turkey, have been impacted greatly. Cases have
spread to at least 50% US States, by the 3rd of April inclusive of Wyoming, North Carolina, Ohio,
Dakota, according to the US Agriculture Inspection Service.
It has been thought initially the disease was introduced by wild migratory birds. The trouble is that
the virus crosses over to the industrial poultry and the waterfowl, to the raptors, who
eat the dead bodies, and the virus again recirculates. At least 40 separate wild
species have tested positive, such species include common crows, pelicans and bald eagles.
“It’s somewhat surprising how widespread it is already in North America,” says Jonathan
Runstadler, a researcher at Tufts University. “It’s clearly able to persist and transmit from
year to year in parts of Asia, Europe, Africa, and I don’t think we should be surprised if that’s
going to be the case here.”
In Florida, for example, more than 1,000 lesser scaup ducks have succumbed to the virus. In
New Hampshire, roughly 50 Canada geese died in a single event. In the Great Plains states,
wildlife experts have seen mass die-offs in snow geese.
“In addition, there’s a host of other species, including black vultures and bald eagles and
some of the other scavenging species, that were likely infected by consuming the carcasses
of those waterfowl,” says Richards.
The States veterinary service have warned of multiple Symptoms for poultry owners to stay
vigilant of. These include lethargy, soft shelled eggs, nasal discharge, lack of appetite,
diarrhoea. There have also been episodes of sudden death in poultry farm stocks.
‘We’re asking anyone involved with production to review and implement biosecurity practices
to ensure health and well being of their flocks’ Dr Hall confirmed.
It remains to be seen how much of a toll this virus will take on American bird species, in
2014 there was a death of 50 million birds, costing poultry farmers billions of dollars.
Containment policies seem pretty futile given that it is impossible to restrict wild migratory
species movements, they don’t require customs health checks. “Wild migratory waterfowl are
always flying over the top and when they poop, that poop gets on the ground,” she says,
explaining that the virus can feasibly then be tracked into bird houses on boots or
inadvertently across farms by tractors etc.
3. Europe Faces Similar Concerns and potential Human Crossover
Since December, farmers in Europe have culled 17 million birds. “So that’s very similar to the
situation in the U.S.,” says Fouchier. “And we are seeing massive die-offs in wild birds.”
The additional concern is that the pathogen is also able to mingle with the flu viruses that are
already circulating in the U.S.
“What that means for the virus in terms of how it evolves, how it changes, we just don’t really
know,” says Richard Webby, a flu researcher at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Previously the virus has reached humans, “Because humans have no prior immunity to
these viruses typically, if they were to be infected and spread the virus to other humans, then
we could have another pandemic virus on our hands.” Centre Disease Control, (CDC) Todd
So far, only an elderly person in the United Kingdom who worked with ducks is known to
have contracted this particular virus, after some of his ducks got sick and died, yet he has
not contracted any symptoms yet.
In the States, the CDC has been monitoring the health of some 500 people in 25 states
who were exposed to infected birds, says Davis. Although a few dozen people did develop
flu-like symptoms, none to date have tested positive for this virus.