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home : state news : state news March 28, 2023

1/1/2023 9:10:00 PM
Avian Flu Outbreak Continues

Wayne Howard

We're not try to cause undue alarm, but there's a new virus that is affecting the bird and poultry population across the US including North Carolina.

The virus is a new strain of bird flu.

As we reported during the COVID pandemic, viruses have a tendency to mutate. In some cases, that can result in a more deadly form. The most commont main forms of bird flu viruses are H5 and H7 derivatives of type A influenza. Infections can cause disease that affects multiple internal organs with mortality of 90% to 100% in chickens, often within 48 hours. Some species, including ducks, can be infected without any signs of illness, although they, too, sometimes die from the virus.

The current highly pathogenic variety (HPAI type A, H5) was first detected in wild bird populations, but had spread to commercial poultry and backyard flocks by early last year. 47 states have now reported incidences of the virus.

In November, the North Carolina Dept. of Agriculture reported that the deadly form of avian flu had been found in nine poultry farms in Johnston and Wayne counties. Multiple backyard flocks had also been reported to have infections, one of them in Union County.

Although bird flu viruses usually don't infect people, there have been some rare cases of human infection with these viruses. Besides birds including poultry, the bird flu can infect other animals—including cats and dogs, who may become infected if they eat sick or dead infected birds or bird feces.

You need not be concerned about eating prepared and cooked poultry and eggs. The chance of infected poultry or eggs entering the food chain is extremely low because of the rapid onset of symptoms in poultry as well as the safeguards USDA has in place, which include testing of flocks, and Federal inspection programs. But you can blame a part of the recent rise in prices for chicken and eggs on the bird flu, and it was also partially responsible for the higher prices of turkey for your Thanksgiving and Christmas. Since this outbreak was first reported in North Carolina, thousands of turkeys and broiler chickens were destroyed. In April, the NCDA said 90,000 turkeys and 280,000 broiler chickens had already been destroyed after the bird flu was found in flocks. Nationally, this is the worst outbreak in history, topping the previous record of the 2010-2011 outbreak. There was also an outbreak in 2014-2015. Nationally, over 53 million birds either died or were destroyed in 2022.

Efforts to contain the virus in our state appeared to have slowed the spread early in 2022, but more cases have been reported recently and in a wider area.

The current virus of concern is a Eurasian H5N1 HPAI virus that causes high mortality and severe clinical signs in domesticated poultry. Scientists who monitor wild bird flocks have also detected a reassortant virus that contains genes from both the Eurasian H5 and another less deadly North American virus. Reassortment happens when multiple strains of the virus exchange genes to create a new strain of the virus, much like the new strains of COVID virus (SARS-CoV-2) like omicron and delta emerged during the pandemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk to public health from this outbreak is low. No human illnesses were associated with the 2014-2015 H5N1 outbreak in the US; and the only known human case in the US during the current outbreak was found in a man in Colorado who had contact with infected birds.

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