Avian flu poses a very small risk to humans. In the last 25 years, less than 500 people have died as a result of the virus jumping from birds to humans. Among bird populations, however, it’s absolutely devastating.
Since the current outbreak began, more than 50.54 million birds in the United States alone have succumbed to avian flu, making it the worst outbreak and the worst animal health disaster in U.S. history. The flu affects both wild and domestic flocks, including chickens, turkeys, and other farm species.
As such, humans haven’t gone unaffected by the virus’ ravages of the country’s bird population. Poultry and egg prices have skyrocketed as a result of the diminished populations throughout U.S. farms.
The outbreak began in February, infecting poultry and other birds in 46 states, according to data collected by the USDA. It then spread through the migration of wild birds, including ducks, mallards, and hawks, which carry the virus in their feces and feathers.
“Wild birds continue to spread HPAI throughout the country as they migrate, so preventing contact between domestic flocks and wild birds is critical to protecting U.S. poultry,” Rosemary Sifford, the USDA’s chief veterinary officer, told Reuters.
Turkey farms have been hit the hardest by the avian flu outbreak. More than 70 percent of the commercial poultry farms infected are turkey farms, leading government agencies to study these farms in an effort to prevent future outbreaks.
CDC Recommends Avoiding Sick, Dead Birds Amid Avian Flu Outbreak
Again, avian flu poses little risk to humans. That said, the CDC still recommends avoiding sick and dead birds to remove any risk of contracting the virus.
The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association also advised the removal of outdoor bird feeders. Though a cheerful addition to any yard, they promote the spread of avian flu.
“The Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza is spread in the droppings and respiratory secretions of infected birds and can be easily transmitted on objects contaminated with virus particles,” Dr. Gail Henson, DVM, MPH, explained. “The virus is tough and can survive cold and freezing temperatures.”
“Bird feeders encourage different types of birds to gather together,” she added. “The virus could easily be exchanged between them. And the shared surfaces may continue to harbor the virus for a time.”
In 2015, only about 30% of avian flu cases were traced directly to wild birds. This year, however, that number spiked to 85 percent, leading both human and animal health professionals to advise caution. The number of bird deaths has already topped the previous record of 50.5 million birds and continues to rise.
So far, only one human case has been reported, according to the CDC. The case of human avian flu occurred in New Mexico back in April. No additional cases have been reported since.