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Ask Dr. Nandi: Should I be worried about the bird flu?

Bird Flu Free Range
Posted at 4:26 PM, Apr 11, 2024

(WXYZ) — Over 85 million poultry in 48 states have been affected by the H5N1 avian flu virus. And now, after a dairy worker tested positive for the bird flu in Texas, people are understandably concerned about its potential spread. 

The risk is relatively low at the moment. Currently, there's no evidence of the avian flu spreading from person to person, and only two cases have been reported in the U.S. so far. The first case dates back to 2022 and the second involves a Texas dairy farm worker.

But how did someone working with cows get the bird flu? Isn’t the bird flu just for birds? Well, infections are caused by avian influenza Type A viruses.

In this particular outbreak, the strain being transmitted is H5N1. While these viruses naturally spread among birds, some can also infect other animals. However, this is the first time the virus has been confirmed in cows and is also the first known instance of cow-to-human transmission of bird flu.

The good news is that samples from infected animals suggest that this virus has not undergone significant changes. Genetic sequencing of the virus from the Texas dairy worker did find a change in a gene called PB2. While this does suggest that the virus is a bit better at multiplying in mammals, it doesn't mean it's become more transmissible between people.

Vaccines for H5N1 flu do exist. But they are not being produced in large quantities, so they’re unavailable for widespread distribution.

As for treatment, there are several antiviral drugs approved for treating influenza. Some of these medications can also be prescribed for post-exposure prophylaxis — that just means people who’ve been exposed but haven't gotten sick can take them.

When it comes to milk and poultry, it's safe to drink pasteurized milk as the process eliminates germs like the flu. I recommend avoiding raw milk or anything made from it. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, it’s safe to eat poultry including eggs. Just please cook these foods to a safe internal temperature as this kills bacteria and viruses.

For most Americans, getting infected with bird flu would be rare. However, if you work with birds and animals, it's best to take precautions. Infection can happen if you breathe the virus in or it enters your eyes, nose or mouth. So try to avoid touching surfaces where there might be bird droppings, wash hands often and avoid direct contact with wild birds.

THIS WEEK ON 'THE DR. NANDI SHOW'

Many have spent years searching for a known cause or cure for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Dr. Partha Nandi, MD, speaks with a husband-and-wife doctor team that believes they have found a way to solve this riddle. Dr. Nandi also meets with two doctors who were diagnosed with the disease and the world-renowned Dr. Russell Jaffe, who believes Western medicine is a hindrance to curing this disease. Tune in Monday, April 14t at 2:30 a.m.

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