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The Return of Bird Flu to the News

News of a recent outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in Iowa (nee, "high path bird flu") is making headlines today. Cases were actually reported in Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Ontario over the past several days, indicating the widespread nature of this particular event. There is good news and bad news here. These cases are the H5N2 strain, which is devastating to poultry but does not cause disease in humans. There are multiple reports of antibody production by asymptomatic farm workers, indicating that they were infected with the virus but never got sick. All told, this is clearly not dangerous. The control measure here is culling, meaning that: a.) a lot of chickens and turkeys are going to be slaughtered that cannot then be sold; and b.) poultry prices may go up. BUT...that's not the only news story here.

Chickens in a commercial poultry facility (PHOTO: CHARLIE NEIBERGALL/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The past few months have also seen cases of the H5N1 strain that instilled quite a bit of panic a few years back. A large number of these have been in Egypt, where 132 human cases (including 33 deaths) and millions of bird infections were reported. Moving North from Egypt, H5N1 cases are now being reported in Palestinian territory of the Gaza strip. Looking to the West, just days ago 202,000 poultry flu cases were reported in Burkina Faso [West Africa], now determined to be H5N1. It is worth pointing out that the cases in Burkina Faso are spread across the country (see this OIE map), indicating that it has likely been circulating locally. The same applies to the cases in Egypt, where 14 separate regions have reported cases. It is further worth pointing out that the countries between Burkina Faso and Egypt (excluding Nigeria) can at times struggle with infrastructure and disease reporting (see map below). In other words, learning that there are additional cases in North Africa would not be surprising in the least.

There are two take-homes here: 1.) We are not having an outbreak of the scary version of bird flu (H5N1) in the US and Canada at the moment, we are having an outbreak of H5N2; and 2.) There have been human fatalities recently in the world from H5N1 bird flu, and it very likely there will be more. Take care in your news reading to note the strain!

The region between active H5N1 cases is circled

Update: 22/04/2015 OIE released new report of an H5N1 outbreak in poultry in Niger. While I found this predictable, I didn't think it would come to fruition in less than 24 hours!

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