Millions of chickens were slaughtered to stop one of the largest bird flu outbreaks in recorded history, but it now appears that the disease is spreading to mammals as well.
The avian influenza has been found in skunks and bears, as well as a raccoon, and a red fox, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
As per USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, although the majority of cases were found in Oregon, the following states had positive tests for mammals confirmed as well: Colorado, Alaska, Illinois, Nebraska, New York, Washington, Montana and Idaho.
However, the problem is not limited to the United States.
The Animal and Plant Health Agency in the UK has discovered positive cases in otters and foxes too.
The organization also shared that a cat from France has tested positive for the highly contagious pathogen, which also led to a significant outbreak in a mink farm in Spain.
But how is the bird flu spreading?
According to the Center on Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at Kansas State University director, Jürgen Richt, the majority of these infections are likely isolated cases in which a mammal ate an infected bird.
Given that wild birds like ducks and swans are more susceptible to viral transmission, it might be occurring more frequently during this outbreak.
According to Richt, the outbreak at the Spanish mink farm might be an exception where the virus was spreading from mammal to mammal.
Although very rare, bird flu can spread among humans as well by mimicking regular flu symptoms.
So how dangerous is bird flu to people?
Even though more research needs to be done at this point, the news isn’t great.
“If this virus has mammalian adaption and can transmit between mammals, humans are immunologically naive … and humans are mammals,” Richt explained.
At the same time, the CDC says that the “bird flu situation remains primarily an animal health issue,” adding that in the United States have only been 4 known cases of human infection!
That being said, here are some of the main symptoms you can look out for: fever, eye redness, sore throat, coughing, stuffy or runny nose, headache, fatigue and shortness of breath.
It has to be mentioned that bird flu and common human flu share many of the same symptoms so if you experience them it’s most likely not the flu.
Other less common and more serious symptoms are nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and even seizures.
Gregory Martin, a poultry educator at Penn State Extension, told USA Today that bird flu is not a foodborne illness, so poultry and eggs sold in regular grocery stores are fine to buy and consume.
However, the ongoing bird flu outbreak, along with rising feed, labor and fuel costs, has caused prices of such food items to more than double over the past year making them much more inaccessible.