A recent opinion from Watt AgNet crossed my desk concerning the world outbreaks and deaths of humans from avian flu. The author, Mark Clements, presents his thoughts with a British twist, according to Watt AgNet.
Also known as bird flu, I agree with Mr. Clements that human deaths from avian flu go largely unreported in the news headlines. He states a staggering statistic from the World Health Organization (WHO) for 2015. In the first 4 months of this year the number of human deaths worldwide has almost doubled compared to the entire year of 2014. I would call that a headline!
There are various reasons as to the “why” we don’t hear about the human deaths from avian flu. I think the foremost reason is sensationalism. Human outbreaks and deaths slowly rise in number compared to the rapid millions of infected chickens that have either died from the disease or Have been euthanized in an effort to control the disease.
Secondly, the various organizations, agencies, and industry around the world don’t want to start a panic. Mr. Clements clearly states that “the WHO warns that wherever avian influenza viruses are circulating in poultry, sporadic infections and small clusters of human cases are possible in people exposed to infected poultry or contaminated environments”.
If the general public were made more aware of the warning from the WHO questions would arise about industry practices and why such things are allowed to go on while keeping people in the dark about the risks to their health.
Just this year alone in the United States, avian flu has spread across the country killing or causing to be killed, millions of chickens and turkeys. Some experts are calling this the worst ever outbreak of avian flu in the country. The Center for Disease Control says that highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5 infections have been reported in U.S. domestic poultry (backyard and commercial flocks), captive wild birds, and wild birds. HPAI H5 detections began in December 2014 and have continued to date in 2015. USDA is reporting H5 bird flu virus detections in 21 U.S. states.
So, where does avian flu come from and how does it spread? Government agencies and industry are saying that migratory birds such as ducks and geese are the initial culprits. Three out of four migratory flyways have shown a few wild fowl to be infected with avian flu. Interestingly enough is the fact that the strain of avian flu appears to have mutated from a Eurasian strain to combine with the North American strain creating a whole new strain. My question on this fact is – did the migratory waterfowl bring the Eurasian strain through traveling the flyways and when they arrived in North America the virus combined with an already live North American strain of avian flu?
In researching the avian flu outbreak looking for exact numbers of poultry infected in the United States, I ran across a report released on June 15, 2015 from Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), an agency of USDA. This definitely wasn’t what I was looking for however I decided to peruse it. Although lengthy and highly scientific, what caught my eye was analysis of the avian flu virus traveling on the wind and in the air.
I quote, “The results obtained to date indicate that HPAI can be aerosolized from infected flocks and remain airborne. HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza) RNA was detected in air samples collected inside and immediately outside of the infected premises. Low levels of genetic material were detected at distances of approximately 70 to 1000 meters. Viable virus was detected in an air sample collected inside an affected barn.” 70 to 1,000 meters translates to 76 to 1093 yards or up to almost one-half of a mile.
Based on considerably sound science is it reasonable to question the possibilities of humans becoming infected with the avian influenza virus from environmental routes such as airborne? Common sense which I have a degree in says that human viruses such as the flu are easily spread by aerosolized routes, like sneezing. “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind” keeps popping in my head! Does anyone remember the Bob Dylan song “Blowin’ in the Wind“?
While avian flu hasn’t reached the east coast some experts warn that it could be seen by this fall. Personally, we began practicing strict bio-security measures on the farm as a preventative measure after receiving a Virus Alert from the Maryland Department of Agriculture. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen bio-security being practiced by industrialized chicken production, locally.
Of specific concern is the sudden land grab and building of many chicken houses concentrated in one area and the related traveling by CAFO developers between their chicken developments. What better way to spread a virus such as avian flu or other diseases?
Should we be concerned over the possibilities indicated and implications of risks to human health? Is questioning called for? Taking a look around at the heavily concentrated industrialized chicken production locations in relation to airborne avian influenza being transmitted to humans – we better start questioning!
Note: This post is in relationship to public health concerns and avian flu and in no way is meant to take away from the disastrous affects the virus has on poultry.