The current avian influenza outbreak is causing a spike in egg prices and impacting communities across the U.S. and around the globe. Learn what you need to know to protect yourself during the outbreak.
Avian influenza is a zoonotic infection that can infect both birds and humans, causing a range of respiratory symptoms.
The ongoing avian influenza outbreak began in January 2022 and has impacted massive numbers of birds.
Key precautions for avian influenza include maintaining distance from wild birds and reporting dead birds to local authorities.
What is avian influenza?
Avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu or avian flu, is a virus from the Orthomyxoviridae family, like other influenzas. There are two types of avian flu: low pathogenic avian influenza virus and highly pathogenic avian influenza virus.
The low pathogenic avian influenza strain typically causes mild to no symptoms. Highly pathogenic avian influenza causes severe illness and often death in birds, especially poultry and waterfowl, and can cause a range of symptoms in humans. Highly pathogenic avian influenza can cause mild respiratory symptoms like fever and cough or can cause serious symptoms like pneumonia, shock, and death in humans.
How avian influenza spreads
Avian influenza passes from individual to individual through contact with the virus, such as through droplets. This is the same way that other influenza viruses spread in a population. The currently spreading strains of avian influenza do not pass easily between humans but do pass easily between birds.
Avian influenza primarily arrives in new areas via migratory birds. The movement of animals from one area with avian influenza to another poses a risk for new outbreaks. When wild migratory birds mix with local or farmed birds, new outbreaks can occur in areas that did not have avian influenza previously.
Avian influenza is a zoonotic infection, which means that it can pass between humans and animals. Contact with infected birds is the most common way to pass the infection from birds to humans. Contact can be direct, like handling birds in farm settings or poultry processing plants, or indirect, like coming in contact with contaminated environments or fecal matter.
Why zoonotic infections matter
According to the Pan American Health Organization, approximately 61% of all infections that can make humans sick are zoonotic. They spread between humans and different kinds of animals.
Over the last several years, zoonotic infections have posed an increasing challenge for public health. Major factors for increasing zoonotic disease spread include:
- Climate change and the resulting shifts in migratory patterns and home ranges of many species;
- Loss of wildlife habitat as urban sprawl increases and farm land pushes up against wild spaces;
- Globalized food production that increases industrialized farming and movement of food products around the world;
- Pathogenic adaptation that can result in more contagious infections.
Current avian influenza outbreak impact
The ongoing outbreak of avian influenza is the longest and most deadly to date in the USA. The CDC reported that nearly 6,000 wild birds with avian influenza have been identified within 50 states, as of January 25, 2023. The CDC also reported over 58 million poultry have been affected and 47 states have reported poultry outbreaks to date. As of January 25, 2023, one human case of avian influenza was reported in the USA as part of this outbreak.
One notable impact of the ongoing outbreak is the increase in prices of eggs across the country. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, egg prices increased from an average of $1.79 per dozen in December 2021 to $4.25 per dozen in December 2022.
How to stay safe during the avian influenza outbreak
While cases in people remain low, it is important to take safety precautions to avoid risk of avian influenza.
Key safety measure should include:
- Notify authorities. Report any dead wild birds to local authorities, according to local policies, and do not touch a dead bird.
- Avoid contact. Only observe live wild birds from a distance, whenever possible.
- Practice food safety. Always prepare poultry according to safe eating guidelines, including ensuring safe internal temperatures before consumption.
- Get vaccinated. Get an annual influenza vaccine. While it cannot completely prevent avian influenza, it can help to reduce the risk of getting sick.
It’s impossible to know how much longer the current outbreak of avian influenza will last, but controlling the spread of known infections will be critical to slowing and stopping the spread of disease. Avoiding contact with wild birds, practicing good hygiene measures on farms, and reporting any dead birds will help to stop the spread of avian influenza.
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