Bird Flu Is Not Just for the Birds

The second confirmed case of the bird flu infecting a human in this country (a Texas dairy farm worker who worked among infected cows) raises a red flag about the possibility of another pandemic ripping across the world.

The current bird flu outbreak not only has killed millions of wild and domesticated birds world-wide, but it also has killed many mammals across the globe, including the well-publicized devastation of an elephant seal population in Argentina.

Although the bird flu is not as fatal in cows as seals, it has sickened cows in states across the country, an indication that cows are infecting each other as they move around farms from state-to-state. The virus has been detected in the unpasteurized milk of these cows. More ominously, the detection of the virus in the dairy worker suggests that the bird flu can jump from one mammal species to others — including ourselves.

The bird flu — also known as H5N1 — wreaked havoc in many parts of the world, especially in Asia, in 2006. The U.S. largely was spared the ill-effects of the outbreak thanks to efforts by our national health authorities who worked in these foreign countries to contain its spread.

However, this new variant of H5N1 is being brought to this country by wild bird populations, which obviously is something we cannot control. If cows have been infected, it stands to reason that other animals, including our house pets, could become infected and spread the virus. 

COVID-19 killed more than one million Americans. But as bad as the pandemic had been at its height, it was only killing about one percent of those who were infected, with substantially higher death rates among the elderly and those with prior-existing health conditions, including obesity.

However, the bird flu in humans is far deadlier, with death rates having been estimated at 50% during the 2006 pandemic in some countries. Even if the chances of a bird flu pandemic among humans are slim, the high mortality rate should be enough to raise the alarm bells among our public health officials.

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